University of Michigan settles student sex abuse lawsuit

The University of Michigan has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed last May by students claiming university officials failed to end the repeated sexual abuse of former university doctor Robert Anderson, the advertised university Thusday. As part of the rulethe university will create and fund a multidisciplinary standing committee known as the Coordinated Community Response Team (CCRT), a tool commonly used to prevent sexual misconduct on college campuses.

The non-cash settlement is pending approval by United States District Court Judge Victoria Roberts.

In January, the university reached a $490 million settlement with more than 1,000 people who said Anderson, in his role as chief health officer and then team doctor, sexually assaulted them during 37 years old, until his retirement in 2003. He died in 2008.

Josephine Graham, now a senior at the university, filed the latest class action lawsuit on behalf of other survivors. She accused university officials of violating Title IX, the law that prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded institutions, by failing to pursue persistent sexual assault complaints against Anderson. The lawsuit states that the university “continues to lack appropriate and sufficient policies and procedures to prevent sexual violence on campus, and fails to adequately enforce those policies and procedures.”

Among other things, Graham’s prosecution sought background checks on all new hires and annual credential verification of all medical staff. While the settlement doesn’t necessarily go that far, by establishing the CCRT, it promises much tighter oversight of sexual misconduct complaints.

“This agreement will modernize UdeM’s approach to preventing and responding to sexual violence, and will ensure that our safety is a top priority,” Graham said in a statement. “The CCRT will enable greater input from members of our community, including students like me, who can help create a better future at our university.”

The CCRT will be composed of approximately 30 members and co-chaired by an outside advisor, Rebecca Veidlinger, a lawyer in private practice specializing in Title IX; Sandra Levitsky, associate professor of sociology at Michigan; and Tamiko Strickman, executive director of the university’s Office of Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX and special advisor to the president.

Other members will include Title IX and campus sexual misconduct experts, representatives from the Washtenaw County District Attorney’s Office, representatives from the SafeHouse Center, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assaults, students, survivors, members of the community and some members of the administration. and faculty from three University of Michigan campuses.

“The creation of the Coordinated Community Response Team is another important step towards our vision of becoming a national leader in protecting our community from inappropriate behavior and sexual misconduct,” said the University’s interim president. of Michigan, Mary Sue Coleman, in a statement. “The team structure, which includes leaders from outside the university, will give a voice to all members of our community who have a point of view to share on this vital effort.”

This CCRT must meet at least three times a year. He will work with officials and advise the university on a wide range of approaches to preventing and addressing sexual misconduct. Additional details on the formation of the CCRT will be shared following court approval.

The CCRT is considered “a best practice for colleges and universities seeking to enact serious reforms” regarding sexual misconduct, according to the university’s statement. Other institutions, including the University of California, Berkeleyand the University of Mary Washingtonhave similar teams on campus.

Graham’s lawsuit came in response to two recent investigative reports, conducted by a law firm and released by the university, detailing decades of sexual assaults on campus. In 2020 the university released a report on Martin Philbert, a former provost who engaged in inappropriate sex with employees and graduate students, and in 2021 the university released its report on Anderson.

The litany of sexual misconduct didn’t end there: In January, Michigan’s board of directors fired the chairman, Dr. Mark Schlissel, after he was found using the resources of the university to conduct an affair with a subordinate.

Jordan Acker, chairman of the board of trustees, said in a statement that the creation of the CCRT will provide the university with another way to support survivors of sexual abuse.

“This commitment to stay tuned is an academic commitment that will extend to our next president,” Acker said in a statement. “Continued community input will help shape the policies and practices of the future.”

Kenyora Parham, executive director of End Rape on Campus, called the settlement a good first step, noting that CCRTs were first used by police, local courts and women’s shelters to address and prevent situations of violence. domesticated.

“I think what we’re seeing now is universities taking a similar approach to that, really taking that community approach and not just talking about what’s on their campuses, but also bringing in outside organizations as well as students to fight sexual assault on campus. said Parham. “This is the first important step in changing campus culture and ultimately keeping students safe.”

She still has questions about how the Michigan CCRT will be integrated into the campus community and whether the group will be proactive in preventing sexual assault.

“What is the coordinated community response effort with respect to a prevention strategy? said Parham. “We can’t just get this team together, get 30 members together, and expect those 30 members to change the culture on campus.”

But she said it’s a positive sign Michigan has agreed to create a CCRT that gives students a seat at the table.

“You can’t create such a program without them,” she said. “They are the ones who are disproportionately affected by this problem, and the university must consider the narrative perspectives, not only of those who serve on campus, but also of students, their experiences and their identities.”

About Mark A. Tomlin

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