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The University of Michigan and attorneys representing U-M students have reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit and have agreed to the creation of a Coordinated Community Response Team (CCRT). This comprehensive group will work to add transparency to the University’s response to sexual violence on campus and ensure students’ safety.
The lawsuit was filed in May 2021 by LSA senior Josephine Graham, a student representative, accusing the University of their failure to protect students on campus from sexual violence. This settlement follows the $490 million agreement with survivors of the late University doctor Robert Anderson. The financial agreement for Graham’s case is still being finalized, but the implementation of the CCRT will begin. Graham said that the CCRT is the capstone of the settlement and spoke to her excitement of the process beginning.
“I’m really excited about the potential of this Coordinated Community Response Team, and it’s really a first step in establishing more accountability, transparency and, really importantly, community decision making,” Graham said at a press conference Wednesday. “When it comes to U of M’s, history of sexual misconduct and the policies and procedures and all those programs that are being implemented, the CCRT (will further this innovation) which is the main focal point of the settlement.”
The University has faced multiple allegations from survivors of mishandling sexual misconduct on campus, including hundreds of allegations against Anderson. Other forms of sexual misconduct include allegations against Computer Science and Engineering professors Walter Lasecki and Jason Mars, as well as the upcoming criminal sexual misconduct trial for former CSE chair Peter Chen. Former Music, Theatre & Dance professors Stephen Shipps and David Daniels, former LSA lecturer Bruce Conforth and English professor Douglas Trevor have also been accused of misconduct. Former Provost Martin Philbert was also fired in March 2020 following a series of sexual misconduct allegations.
Jonathan Selbin, one of the lead lawyers representing Graham, said that he believes the settlement will help to make the University one of the leaders in approaches to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.
“(Myself) and this team that I mentioned have doggedly pursued accountability and responsibility for the last two years,” Selbin said at a press conference Wednesday. “The settlement that we’re announcing tomorrow will lead to the creation and implementation of best-in-class institutional reforms at the University of Michigan to address and prevent sexual misconduct both now and into the future. It adds transparency into the policymaking process and we think (it) will help ensure a safer campus environment for everybody. In short, it’ll make the University of Michigan not just better, but a leader when it comes to these issues.”
The CCRT will be co-chaired by an external advisor, Rebecca Veidlinger, an attorney who works on Title IX investigations and training. Additionally, 30 campus and community representatives across all three U-M campuses will advise the University in its decisions and policies on sexual violence. Nancy Cantalupo, assistant professor of law at Wayne State University, said that CCRTs are best practices and are used to address sexual harassment on campus.
“The whole idea here is to take a comprehensive prevention approach that will allow the campus to prevent and properly respond to campus sexual harassment and gender-based violence,” Cantalupo said in a press conference to The Michigan Daily on Wednesday.
CCRTs were identified as one of the six primary elements of an effective approach to sexual violence prevention on campus by the White House Task force. The University of California, Berkeley implemented their CCRT in 2015 along with other universities and have seen successful outcomes, Cantalupo said. One of the reasons CCRTs are effective is their comprehensive nature of different leadership areas.
“So importantly, CCRTs need to have a sort of balanced leadership structure,” Cantalupo said at the press conference. “They need to have external and faculty oversight and a membership that is made up of key campus and community stakeholders. A group of people who are all committed to regularly coordinating their activities, coming to agreement about how the campus should approach these issues and how it should engage in prevention efforts. (The CCRT) also (needs) to make sure that they are transparent about those efforts, and therefore publish their work to provide accountability through such transparency.”
Selbin said he believes the CCRT differs from previous University-implemented task forces and investigations because of the transparent and inclusive nature of this group.
“What we’re doing here is bringing together all of the stakeholders at the University in an open and transparent process,” Selbin said at the press conference. “This is not a secretive investigation. It’s an open and transparent process that involves all of the key stakeholders and an external co-chair. So it’s not just the University investigating itself, in simplest terms.”
The University’s CCRT would meet at least three times a year as a whole, with additional meetings between the co-chairs and the president. Jordan Acker, chair of the U-M Board of Regents, said the CCRT is one way the University will continue to listen to survivors throughout their investigations and implement changes to their sexual misconduct policies.
“This commitment to keep listening is a University commitment that will extend to our next president,” Acker said in a press release Wednesday. “Ongoing community input will help shape the policies and practices of the future.”
Graham said she hopes the communal nature of the CCRT will help to reestablish trust between the University and students.
“The CCRT will have representation across campus, and a lot of the folks on the CCRT will be volunteering their time and their efforts, meaning they have really deep stakes and are very deeply committed to making the University a better place in speaking for the people most affected by these policies, and not in any way seeking to protect the institution itself,” Graham said at the press conference.
The implementation of the CCRT is awaiting approval from U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts. Once approved, students will be notified about the CCRT, and the group will agree on the role of the CCRT and its operational procedures.
Interim University President Mary Sue Coleman said that the CCRT is another important step in the University’s commitment to preventing sexual violence on campus.
“The creation of the Coordinated Community Response Team is another important step toward our vision of becoming a national leader in protecting our community from inappropriate behavior and sexual misconduct,” Coleman said in a press release Wednesday.
Selbin said that the court will schedule a final approval hearing over the summer, but noted that members of the CCRT have already started meeting and working toward creating a defined purpose for this group.
“The co-chairs have begun meeting to begin talking about (the CCRT) and so they will be ready to hit the ground running, assuming the court grants approval,” Selbin said at the press conference. “But ultimately, we wish that none of this was necessary. We wish that Dr. Anderson had never existed. That the abuse that he engaged in had never happened, that all of the other problems that have occurred at the University that you’re all very familiar with over recent years back many years ago hadn’t happened.”
Selbin said he takes pride in this settlement and he is excited for the next step in this process.
“I take seriously the promise of ‘Leaders and Best,’” Selbin wrote in a press release. “Through this settlement, (the University) will now be leading the way on the best institutional structures to prevent and respond to sexual violence within a campus community, so that something like this can never happen again at (the University).”
Correction: A previous version of the article said Rebecca Veidlinger was the chair of the CCRT, the article now correctly states that she is an external co-chair. Additionally, a previous version of the article said the CCRT is waiting on a final court meeting and has been updated correctly to say it is waiting on a final court hearing.
Daily News Editor Shannon Stocking can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.