Another 2020 shocker — OIE is late on something

Wednesday, December 23, 2020 - 8:39pm

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Alec Cohen/Daily

Should annual reports be published annually? For the University of Michigan’s Office of Institutional Equity, this is apparently a difficult question. OIE, the office that handles investigations of sexual misconduct within the University, estimates that their annual report for the fiscal year that ended on June 30 will be ready in mid-January 2021. The last report was published on Nov. 11, 2019. 

Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald attributed the delay to the “new umbrella policy” (effective Aug. 14, 2020) and “other matters (that) were a higher priority.” The umbrella policy is the University’s policy for addressing sexual and gender-based misconduct. It applies to the University's Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses and encompasses faculty, staff, students and third parties. 

Granted, timeliness has never been OIE’s strong suit, nor has transparency, a fact acknowledged recently by Regent Denise Ilitch (D). Transparency is a priority in a year marked by multiple high-profile instances of the University utterly failing to address sexual misconduct and then further marred by distrust from faculty, students and staff. These annual reports are supposed to provide some measure of clarity, as previously indicated by Fitzgerald. It is simply unacceptable that the University of Michigan community will go at least 14 months without any measure of accountability from OIE. 

OIE has a tendency to be sporadic with their annual reports. They have been published in September (2018), October (2016) November (2014, 2019) and January (2016). Multiple calendar years have elapsed without an annual report, so this is not a problem that can be chalked up to any one year’s increased responsibilities. It is important to note that OIE estimates that their next report will be ready in January — there is not a hard release date. As a student at this institution, I would be expected to communicate with my professors if I were to turn in a paper a day late, let alone give myself a five-month cushion. 

For comparison's sake, the University’s Annual Fire and Safety Report is published every single year at the beginning of October. This year, they have been given an extension, a date clearly noted on the front page of their website. In addition, the University’s annual financial reports are consistently published in October. 

The Office of Institutional Equity may feel that their priorities lie more in their day-to-day tasks and that they are stretched too thin to provide an annual report every calendar year. Luckily for the University, this is a problem that you can throw money at: Independent auditors do all of the financial annual reports. WilmerHale has been hired to do OIE’s job already this year. Why not have them do it again? 

Alternatively, properly funding, staffing and mandating professionalism and accountability from OIE might be cheaper. But neither will happen because the truth is, any commitment to transparency and accountability is a farce. If 2020, a year that has seen the University make national headlines for their consistent failure to handle allegations of sexual misconduct, cannot spark a modicum of accountability then nothing will. 

The inability to produce an annual report this calendar year is yet one more indicator of OIE’s lack of professionalism and communication. Let’s read between the lines a little bit here. As members of the U-M community, we deserve the transparency and accountability that has been promised to us. When it’s not given, it is imperative to ask why. 

Jessie Mitchell can be reached at jessiemi@umich.edu


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