From the Daily: A suspect separation


Published January 29, 2014

The University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy defines an expulsion as a “permanent separation from the University.” On Dec. 20, 2013, former Michigan football kicker Brendan Gibbons was “permanently separated” from the University. The expulsion was handed down following the University’s investigation into a case of sexual assault dating to Nov. 22, 2009. At the moment, there is little information surrounding the story due to the nature of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which guarantees the nondisclosure of student records. Also, University officials have declined to comment on the story. While it is commendable that the University succeeded in punishing Gibbons for violating the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, there are serious questions that the school needs to answer.

In November of 2009, Gibbons was allegedly involved in a sexual assault incident. On Nov. 20, 2013, a letter from the University’s Office of Student Conflict Resolution — the body that carries out disciplinary proceedings against students — stated that a preponderance of evidence was present to find Gibbons responsible for the alleged sexual assault. Gibbons met with investigators from the Office of Institutional Equity on Dec. 4, 2013 to review the findings. On Dec. 19, 2013, OSCR contacted Gibbons via a letter to his residence, informing him that he was permanently separated from the University as of Dec. 20, 2013. More than four years after the incident, action was finally taken against Gibbons, which leads to many questions for the University administration and Athletic Department that as of yet remain unanswered. Due to legal restraints of FERPA, there is a significant lack of available information from which to draw concrete conclusions.

The University’s delay in reaching a decision regarding the Gibbons case until now is suspect. The initial reports of an incident of sexual assault surfaced in November of 2009, more than four years ago. At the moment, no information has been released regarding the investigation carried out by the OIE, making it impossible to know the timeline of the inquiry — when crucial evidence was obtained or even when the investigation was launched. It is possible that the implementation of new University policies regarding sexual misconduct in 2011 led to the case being reviewed. Still, that was more than two years ago. It is difficult — maybe even unfair — to speculate on the delicate process of investigating an allegation of sexual assault, but the overwhelming student response has been one of suspicion. If the University knowingly postponed the expulsion of Gibbons in any way over the last four years, it would be an atrocity of the highest degree.

The timing of the expulsion is questionable — and the University has not provided an explanation for why the separation process concluded in late December. The disciplinary action of the University comes right at the end of Gibbons’ football career and at the end of the football team’s season. Four days after Gibbons received the letter of expulsion from OSCR, Michigan coach Brady Hoke announced that Gibbons would not play in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl due to a “family matter.” At this point, Gibbons was already expelled from the University — therefore no longer on the team — indicating a bizarre lack of communication between the University and the Athletic Department.

Although the University claims to be bound by FERPA in terms of what kind of information it can release regarding Gibbons’ proceedings, it needs to clarify the details of the case to the best of its ability under the law to save the University’s reputation and reinforce that this is truly a community that expects respect.