MSU, Dept. of Ed reach deal over sex abuse cases

The Michigan State University sign. (File photo)


DETROIT (AP) — Michigan State University’s failure to timely address complaints of sexual harassment or assault contributed to a “sexually hostile environment,” the federal government said Tuesday as it closed an investigation but also noted improvements at the East Lansing campus.

MSU agreed to a series of steps, some of them already in place. It created an office last spring to investigate all discrimination or assault complaints, hired more investigators, wrote a new sexual misconduct policy and ordered mandatory training for staff.

“No member of our community should be threatened by sexual violence, and we have made a commitment to be part of a larger societal conversation on this issue,” President Lou Anna Simon said. “We have been constantly making improvements, using various inputs to be better tomorrow than we are today.”

The U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights released a 42-page report and a 21-page agreement after investigating how MSU handles complaints. The agency reviewed dozens of files but the report mostly focused on two students who said they were sexually assaulted, one in a dorm during the 2010-11 school year and the other at an off-campus fraternity in 2012.

>>Online: The agreement (PDF)

Besides any police investigation, MSU said it conducts its own investigation, moves the accused to another residence hall, offers services to the victim and holds disciplinary hearings, if necessary.

The Education Department said MSU didn’t move quickly enough in the cases of the two women, although it found that the investigations ultimately were thorough.

The failure to address complaints “in a prompt and equitable manner caused and may have contributed to a continuation of this sexually hostile environment,” said Meena Morey Chandra, a regional director for the Office of Civil Rights.

Volunteers with MSU's student sexual assault prevention organization on campus. (Sept. 1, 2015)
(Volunteers with MSU’s student sexual assault prevention organization on campus.)

MSU said it is forming a sexual violence advisory council this fall and will hold a series of forums to discuss assault on college campuses. Officials also will receive results of a spring survey of students on the topic.

>>Online: MSU response to agreement (PDF)

“I am … grateful for the university’s good work during the course of our investigation in taking steps to provide a safe learning environment for its students and employees,” said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department.

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has been investigating dozens of colleges across the country, including MSU, Grand Valley State University and the University of Michigan, over their handling of sexual abuse complaints.

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