A look at The Daily’s reporting on OIE processes following accusations against Philbert

Thursday, January 23, 2020 - 8:18pm

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University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel’s announcement on Wednesday of numerous sexual misconduct allegations against Provost Martin Philbert follows long-running criticism of how the University’s Office of Institutional Equity has handled such claims in the past, as reported on by The Daily. 

Philbert, who was Schlissel’s second-in-command, was placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday after the University received multiple allegations of his misconduct on Jan. 16 and 17. 

The Office of Institutional Equity investigates sexual misconduct claims, among other allegations. OIE reported directly to Philbert as of September 2019. 

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said, despite supervising OIE, Philbert had no direct involvement with the investigations. 

“On a day-to-day basis, he has no hands-on role with the office or investigations at all,” Fitzgerald said. 

He noted that any allegations made against Philbert “absolutely do not” taint OIE investigations conducted while they reported to the provost. 

Fitzgerald emphasized the provost did not play a role in OIE’s investigations, adding that the office conducts its investigations independently. 

“It would be a mistake to think the provost, or anyone, had power or influence over investigations,” Fitzgerald said. “The investigations are done by trained investigators in the Office for Institutional Equity and they’re signed off by the Title IX coordinator if it’s a sexual misconduct investigation.”

Philbert had been on leave for part of last semester for medical reasons, Fitzgerald confirmed. Amy Dittmar, acting provost at the time, is not resuming the role as that particular administrative leave has ended. 

Before May 2019, OIE reported to both the Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and University Human Resources. Fitzgerald said the University administration changed who OIE reported to in order to make the process more efficient. 

“It (the move to have OIE report to the provost) was partially to indicate the importance of this office, but it reported to two different offices,” Fitzgerald said. “And sometimes a joint reporting relationship can be a little awkward or confusing, you know, who’s your boss … And while those offices worked very closely together, the analysis was they were going to streamline the reporting relationship to the office.”

OIE has undergone a number of additional operational changes in the past year. Tamiko Strickman became the director of OIE on Jan. 6 and Elizabeth Seney was appointed Title IX coordinator over the summer.

This is not the first time a University employee has faced sexual misconduct allegations, nor is it the first time OIE has faced criticism. 

In October 2018, The Daily released an investigation into OIE’s process when a student filed a complaint alleging that her graduate student instructor sexually assaulted her. The student told The Daily she found the process to be protracted and difficult for survivors to navigate, requiring months for any substantial action to be taken. 

In the middle of this student’s OIE investigation, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling mandating that the University allow students accused of sexual assault to directly question their accusers through cross-examination.

This ruling has been widely criticized by the campus and outside community, with claims that cross-examination retraumatizes survivors when they have to face their assaulters.

In November 2018, The Daily published an investigation into David Daniels, a well-known Music, Theatre & Dance professor and opera singer. The Daily found that OIE knew of several allegations of misconduct against Daniels as early as March 2018 — and the University still awarded him with tenure in May 2018. One of his accusers, Andrew Lipian, claimed the University knew Daniels had been assaulting him for years and ignored the information. 

Similar to Philbert, Daniels was placed on paid leave for months during the investigation. Daniels remained on paid leave while he underwent the subsequent trial. The University is still in the process of firing Daniels.

In Fall 2019, following the Daniels case, the University created a faculty working group to suggest changes to the tenure bylaws procedure for faculty dismissal and severance pay. In an interview with The Daily, Information professor Kentaro Toyama, one of the faculty members in the working group, described how their goals include looking at how tenure affects the process.

“Our involvement is basically thinking through what the key principles are and the values we want to uphold in that process are, especially with regard to tenure,” Toyama said. “But (we’re) also thinking about the responsible use of public resources for people who do end up going through that process.”

About a month after the publication of The Daily’s article on Daniels, Music, Theatre & Dance professor Stephen Shipps retired following reporting in The Daily documenting sexual assault allegations against Shipps spanning 40 years. The Daily confirmed in its investigation that at least one Music, Theatre & Dance faculty member was aware of these allegations prior to Shipps’ time at the University. 

In April 2019, shortly before OIE began reporting to Philbert, The Daily spoke to six students about their experiences with OIE’s reporting process. These students spoke about how they felt unsupported. One student told The Daily that OIE’s process negatively affected her well-being and her academic work as a student. 

“Honestly the school is supposed to support the student, (and) that is the biggest problem that is the most heartbreaking,” she said. “I came here for an education and they’re not going to give it to me, they’re just going to make it worse and I have to walk out of school with a GPA that’s not mine because of this and the school’s the one that’s giving me the problems.”

In this article, The Daily found that less than 10 percent of OIE reports are investigated.

In 2019, OIE received 272 reports and conducted 16 investigations.

Daily News Editor Emma Stein can be reached at enstein@umich.edu