By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 25, 2014
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights announced Tuesday it would investigate the 2009 sexual misconduct case involving former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons, demanding access to all documents related to disciplinary proceedings after 2011, among other files.
Though University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald pledged full administrative compliance with the OCR, the school seems to have stymied another group’s investigation efforts — those of the Central Student Government.
Last week, the University denied a CSG executive taskforce the right to access documents from the Office of Student Conflict Resolution related to the Gibbons case.
CSG created the taskforce Feb. 3 to explore the differences between the University’s 2009 sexual misconduct policy and the newer one established in September 2013. The end goal of the taskforce was to determine which policy was applicable to the Gibbons case.
CSG Vice President Bobby Dishell, a Public Policy junior, led the taskforce which included CSG Assembly Speaker Meagan Shokar, an LSA sophomore, and CSG Student General Counsel Jeremy Keeney, a Law School student.
Per a provision in the Student Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, Keeney would have exclusive access to “review all confidential and non-confidential OSCR documents pertaining to investigations of students for violations of the Statement … and/or the student sexual misconduct policy,” according to a CSG press release.
“Periodic, regular review of records of resolution actions will be made available, in confidence, to the Code of Conduct Advisory Board Chair of CSG,” the Statement reads. The Statement was last updated on July 1, 2013.
However, the University interpreted this clause in the statement differently.
“The University stated that the sexual misconduct policy did not fall under the Statement, meaning that they felt as if our access to the documents is invalidated,” Dishell said. “Prior to that meeting, that distinction was not clear.”
Keeney said the taskforce has evidence that CSG had access in the past to cases dealing with sexual assault and sexual harassment. However, these instances were subject to the 2009 sexual misconduct policy and a similarly older Statement, not the new one. Still, Keeney argued the policies were “close enough” that CSG should be granted access to the Gibbons documents.
OSCR Director Jay Wilgus said the Statement has a "cut-out" where all potential sexual misconduct violations will now follow the Student Sexual Misconduct policy.
The taskforce is now working with Kirkland & Ellis, an international law firm, to determine whether or not there is a direct correlation between the statement and sexual misconduct policy — and ultimately whether or not the University has the right to withhold OSCR documents from the taskforce.
CSG President Michael Proppe, a Business junior, said the Department of Education’s investigation might push back the timeline of the taskforce’s investigation, whose work will be ongoing despite its inability to obtain University documents.
“The Department of Ed., I’m guessing, is going to take a bit of a priority, but we’re going to continue,” Proppe said.
However, Keeney said he is glad to see federal involvement in the Gibbons case.
“It’s good to see that we’re not the only people that think this situation involves a little more transparency,” he said.
Keeney added that the University’s denial of access to the documents hasn’t entirely impeded the taskforce’s efforts. Outside sources might be able to provide the same documents to which the University has barred access. Each executive could not comment as to whether or not the taskforce obtained any of these.
“The thing about that is, people give those statements,” Keeney said. “Some reports are prepared by outside agencies. Letters that are sent to people outside the University are possessed by those people. And if any of those people have chosen to reach out to the committee, then we could have access to those documents not through the University. We would also not be bound by the same privacy rights that the University would be bound by.”