The University of Michigan announced Thursday several ongoing revisions to policies meant to address the culture around sexual misconduct at the University.
Along with the University’s announcement during the Board of Regents meeting creating the Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office (ECRT), administrators detailed steps that are intended to heighten scrutiny on faculty and staff and to support those who come forward with misconduct allegations..
As part of the Standard Practice Guides, a list of policies guiding University-affiliated activities, Provost Susan Collins announced that the University will now prohibit supervisors from initiating or attempting to initiate a relationship with those they supervise. Those who violate the policy could be dismissed from their position.
The University previously banned faculty from having relationships with undergraduate students following concerns when former SMTD professor David Daniels was charged with sexually assaulting students.
Although waiting for new guidance from the federal government, the University is also working on a final sexual and gender-based misconduct “umbrella policy,” which is expected to be released by the end of the summer. Last August, the University implemented an interim “umbrella policy” for Michigan Medicine and the Dearborn, Flint and Ann Arbor campuses.
“The Interim Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct includes common definitions for prohibited conduct, including sexual and gender-based misconduct, and Title IX misconduct, separate procedures for addressing allegations against students and those against employees and third parties, and further clarifies available confidential resources and ways to report misconduct,” according to the University Record.
Even though the interim “umbrella policy” protects from retaliation anyone who reports an incident of misconduct or is involved in a University process that addresses an incident of prohibited behavior, the Record said the University “will continue its work toward developing a clearer policy explicitly prohibiting retaliation across the university community.”
The University also outlined plans to improve how potential outside hires and candidates for board-approved appointments are vetted and scrutinized prior to being hired or appointed by using recommendations from the WilmerHale report, such as ensuring that any misconduct or policy violations by candidates are available to and factored into consideration by decision makers.
In addition, the University established a large Title IX advisory group composed of students, faculty and staff that will provide input on matters related to sexual and gender-based misconduct policy and prevention. The committee will work closely with Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Seney and deputy Title IX coordinator Brigid Hart-Molloy. Meetings will begin in coming weeks.
Earlier in the month, the University also updated its website to improve access to sexual and gender-based misconduct reporting channels across all three campuses. In an effort to support victims who may not be ready to report misconduct to the police or the University, the website provides links to confidential consultations so victims can talk to someone before they speak out.
Annika K. Martin, who is a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, and the court-appointed interim class counsel in the litigation regarding the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson, made a statement to The Daily concerning the University’s new reforms. Martin’s firm, along with The Miller Law Firm and Sauder Schelkopf, LLC, have filed two class action suits against the University. The first suit was filed in Mar. 2020 on behalf of survivors of Dr. Anderson’s abuse and the second suit, filed in May 2021, sought a court order for reforms to the University’s policy regarding sexual and gender-based misconduct.
“We are glad U of M is taking seriously the need for major reforms surrounding the school’s policies and procedures related to sexual assault and violence on campus, and addressing it at the highest levels,” Martin said. “But any such reforms must be part of a comprehensive, independent, court-approved program, which we will continue to pursue on behalf of survivors of Dr. Anderson as well as current and future U of M students.”
The reforms will be driven by a working group that, according to the Record, will consult students, staff, faculty, and other U-M stakeholders to foster “an environment of mutual respect and accountability that is free from retaliation, where everyone can feel safe to report misconduct and feel supported throughout the process.”
The group intends to create a statement of “shared values and desired behaviors” that will standardize and help guide the University’s approach to misconduct.
School of Nursing Dean Patricia Hurn and Sonya Jacobs, chief organizational learning officer, will lead the group, which is expected to conclude its work in the winter of 2023.
The group’s creation comes after multiple reports of high-level U-M staff and faculty committing sexual misconduct in recent years.
The group is part of the University’s work with GuidePost Solutions, a consulting firm hired in December 2020 to implement recommendations from WilmerHale’s report on sexual misconduct committed by former provost Martin Philbert.
WilmerHale’s investigation concluded that multiple University officials received information about Philbert’s misconduct, which violated sexual harassment policies, and that victims of Philbert feared they would be punished for coming forward to report his actions.
“As President of this university, and on behalf of the regents and university community, let me say today and always to those who may have suffered harm, that we believe you,” University President Mark Schlissel told the Record Thursday. “We value you. And we want you to come forward with trust and confidence in our systems and without the fear of retaliation.”