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The University of Michigan instituted a new policy Thursday to protect students, faculty and staff from retaliation for reporting wrongful conduct or participating in an investigation.
The Protection from Retaliation policy prohibits acts or threats of retaliation on employment or education. Penalties for violating the new policy can include discharge or dismissal for employees and expulsion for students.
Retaliation is defined by the University as “any action that adversely affects the employment or education of an individual” because that individual files a report to a superior regarding wrongful conduct. Wrongful conduct is considered to be any action or suspected action that is illegal, fraudulent or in violation of U-M policy or procedures.
According to the University Record, the new policy is based on recommendations from the consulting firm Guidepost Solutions, which states that a standalone policy, like the protection from retaliation policy, is a national best practice.
The University hired Guidepost Solutions in December of 2020 to help reform its culture around sexual misconduct after an independent report from the law firm WilmerHale concluded that former Provost Martin Philbert sexually harassed subordinates for decades while he worked his way up from professor to the second highest position at the University.
The report found that many of the Philbert survivors, including former members of his research lab, did not feel comfortable making complaints about his behavior because they feared retaliation. One woman in the report alleged that Philbert directly intimidated her.
“If you ever tell anyone about us, I will make sure you go down,” Philbert is alleged in the report to have said. “I will destroy your whole career.”
Several other high-profile members of the University community have also been alleged in recent years to have committed sexual misconduct. An independent report found former University doctor Robert Anderson sexually abused hundreds of student patients from 1966 to 2003. Peter Chen, former chair of the computer science department, is awaiting trial in January for first-degree criminal sexual misconduct. EECS professor Jason Mars and former EECS professor Walter Lasecki have also been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple people. Former School of Music, Theatre & Dance professors Stephen Shipps and David Daniels have also been criminally charged with sex crimes in recent years.
The policy comes as part of a broader effort to make campus safer for the community, according to Rich Holcomb, associate vice president for human resources.
“We want an environment and culture for faculty, staff and students where there is no fear of reporting misconduct, and we need to be deliberate about creating those conditions,” Holcomb said in a press release. “Cultures that don’t support those who voice concerns are harmful not only to the individual but to the community.”
The University has developed training programs for supervisors to address retaliation that are set to begin in January. Education programs designed to teach the larger U-M community about retaliation are also in development.
The policy lists several resources for reporting or seeking guidance about wrongful conduct or retaliation. These include the Ethics, Integrity & Compliance webpage and the University’s compliance hotline.