Wednesday morning, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel released an update to all members of the University community via email on the University’s efforts to address sexual misconduct on campus. Schlissel said now is an apt time to address this topic since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Following numerous allegations of sexual misconduct — notably, one case against professor David Daniels in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and his husband — as well as a revision made to Title IX proceedings at public universities in the state of Michigan, the University set forth multiple committees to engage in oversight and review of its sexual misconduct policies and resources.
In his announcement, Schlissel wrote that a law firm, Hogan Marren Babbo & Rose, Ltd, was commissioned by the University to conduct a review of the University’s sexual misconduct procedure. The firm published their report this month and suggested the University work toward improving transparency, ease of reporting and consistency in policies across campuses.
“During this time period, we encourage University leadership to robustly affirm the University’s continued commitment to ensuring that — for the entire University community, including students, faculty, and staff, as well as for patients, visitors, guests and other third parties — the University’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures are clear, fair and compassionate for all parties involved, and effective in preventing, stopping and remedying sexual misconduct and protecting the University community,” the report said.
Schlissel wrote in his announcement that actions were being taken by the University to follow the report’s recommendations.
“I have charged a team of staff from all three campuses and Michigan Medicine with implementing recommendations from the external review,” Schlissel wrote. “They are working to create an umbrella policy, as well as to make improvements to procedures that apply to faculty and staff. We will seek feedback from students, faculty and staff this fall to inform development of the updated policy and procedures.”
Schlissel also noted two reports released by another working group, composed of University faculty and staff representatives from each of the University’s three campuses and Michigan Medicine. They recommended “improving reporting and accountability of incidents of sexual misconduct, (and) improving the overall workplace culture within the University.”
As a result of that working group’s two reports, Schlissel announced the launch of new faculty online training called “Creating a Culture of Respect: Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Awareness.” It is set to launch in May. The University also created a centralized hub for reporting and other resources, per the recommendation of the working group.
Schlissel said the Ann Arbor Office for Institutional Equity is expanding and will report directly to the University’s Ann Arbor provost effective May 1. The OIE has jurisdiction over all Title IX violations at the University, meaning it supervises all investigations into allegations of sexual assault.
“The office is adding additional staff and is implementing a new database and case management system to streamline work,” Schlissel wrote.
In the fall of 2018, the University had to adapt its sexual misconduct policy in accordance with a U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which requires an in-person hearing as a component of proceedings following a sexual assault allegation. Schlissel said the OIE worked in conjunction with the Office of Student Life to form an advisory board composed of over thirty students working on how to address the revised procedure.
“Their input will be invaluable as we consider the next steps for the policy, and will further inform the work of the team developing the overall policy and procedural changes,” Schlissel wrote.
Schlissel thanked students who participated in the Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct, noting that its results will aid in further improvements which the University will engage in next fall. He also announced that the University joined as a founding partner of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s “action collaborative” to combat sexual harassment in higher education.
“We have been comprehensive in our work, and I appreciate the many people across our university who have devoted their time and expertise to helping us develop and implement these changes,” Schlissel wrote. “What will not change is our values. We must always encourage reporting, support claimants and survivors, and have zero tolerance for retaliation against those who report.”