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Feb. 8, 2019

MSU changes how it investigates campus sexual misconduct

Michigan State University is revising how it conducts investigations of campus sexual misconduct due to recent changes in the interpretation of Title IX law. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded education programs and sets guidelines on how investigations on campus are conducted, including sexual misconduct investigations.

Last fall, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court concluded that when credibility is at issue in a sexual misconduct case, universities are constitutionally required to give the respondent, or someone they designate to represent them, an opportunity to cross-examine the claimant and any witnesses they bring forward in the presence of a neutral fact-finder. The claimant has the same right to cross-examine the respondent and any witnesses they bring forward.

Michigan State is required to follow the mandates of the court’s interpretation and has made corresponding changes to its Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Policy effective Feb. 8, 2019.

“Once we learned of the court’s decision, we began working with campus experts and stakeholders to develop procedures that minimize the impact these required changes will have on all participants,” said Rob Kent, interim director of the MSU Office of Civil Rights. “The new policy applies to reports moving forward.”

The revised RVSM policy provides:

  • When credibility is at issue, an opportunity for cross-examination of parties and witnesses will be offered in the form of a hearing. Hearings will occur by video conference and will not require the parties to be in close proximity to one another.
  • The claimant and respondent must use an adviser of their choice to conduct the cross-examination. If parties do not have their own advisers, MSU will have advisers available to them.

The changes spurred by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court’s interpretation are separate from the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed rules that would also significantly change the way universities investigate and decide incidents of sexual misconduct under Title IX.

In January, Michigan State submitted comments to the Department of Education stating that it strongly disagrees with the constraints the proposed regulations appear to place on institutions’ ability to ensure the safety and well-being of their university communities. The proposed regulations drew almost 103,000 replies during the 60-day public comment period, which closed Jan. 30. After review of the comments, the department can choose to include suggested changes before publishing its final rules.

“The foundational mission of MSU is education. Whether in the classroom or in the residence hall, individual growth through learning is our institutional goal,” said MSU Acting President Satish Udpa in his letter accompanying the university’s comments. “To foster an environment where learning can occur, MSU must start by looking out for the safety of its students, faculty and staff.”

The Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance is responsible for leadership of MSU’s civil rights compliance and efforts to cultivate a campus community that is free of discrimination and harassment. This includes oversight for the Office of Institutional Equity, a neutral entity that reviews concerns and conducts investigations related to discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct, relationship violence and stalking. The office is comprised of approximately 21 individuals who work in a variety of capacities to provide a safe learning and working environment for the MSU community.

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