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Investigation finds MSU failed to meet Title IX obligations

MSU sign
Reginald Hardwick

An independent investigation into Michigan State University’s Title IX reporting released Friday shows the school failed to meet state requirements in 2021.

The Board of Trustees retained Honigman Business Law Firm to investigate the accuracy of MSU’s 2021 reporting of alleged employee sexual misconduct to the state.

Trustees also questioned outgoing President Samuel Stanley Jr.’s certification of that report. Stanley announced earlier this week he would officially resign on Nov. 4.

Honigman claims they reviewed more than 24,000 documents, consisting primarily of emails from trustees, the president, and MSU employees in their investigation. The firm also interviewed 18 witnesses including all eight trustees and Stanley.

Findings show that the lack of a unified review process and the reliance on inaccurate information ultimately led to Stanley signing off on an incomplete report.

Michigan state law requires all Title IX reports involving state employees to be reviewed by at least one board member and the president. Higher education institutions must review and certify all Title IX reports to avoid a 10% reduction in funding.

The investigation specifically points to a former Title IX coordinator, who’s referred to in the report under the pseudonym Jane Smith, as one of the factors leading to the incomplete certification.

The coordinator was tasked with assigning and confirming all Title IX reports are reviewed by trustees. She sent four board members on the Audit, Risk and Compliance committee a total of 16 Title IX reports to review. Each member was given only a portion of those 16 reports to review.

Two members, Renee Knake Jefferson and Brianna Scott, both declined to review all of their assigned reports. Knake Jefferson reviewed one of five and Scott reviewed none of her three assigned reports.

Both declined to review the reports after raising concerns on multiple occasions over the review process and proper training.

According to findings, when the deadline to certify 2021 Title IX reports approached, the coordinator suggested all reports had been reviewed by at least one trustee, giving MSU’s Budget Officer the green light to prepare a certification form for Stanley to sign.

Despite Knake Jefferson and Scott having not reviewed all their assigned reports, the coordinator claimed Chairperson Dianne Byrum had reviewed all reports and therefore the certification was in compliance with state requirements.

Byrum, however, denied this and told investigators she did not read any of the Title IX reports, nor did she ever tell the coordinator she had done so.

According to the investigation, Stanley signed the certification form for three reasons:

“First, he relied on the Title IX Coordinator to ensure the Trustees had completed their review. Second, he believed if the Trustees’ review had been incomplete, the Office of Financial Planning and Budget would not have sent him the certification form to sign. Third, he had no reason to think the Trustees had not reviewed the Title IX reports.”

Stanley told investigators he would not have signed the certification if he had known that not all of the reports were reviewed.

The investigation concluded that while the university failed to properly certify that all Title IX reports had been reviewed, "The Board of Trustees took proactive steps in 2022 to ensure that the President and at least one Board member had reviewed every 2021 Title IX report.”

MSU’s certification of 2021’s Title IX reports were accurately recertified this year.

Honigman suggested several recommendations for future Title IX reporting processes, including creating a single point of contact, developing a more consistent tracking method for reviewed reports and to make documents more legible.

Other recommendations honed in on concerns raised by trustees who declined to review some of the Title IX reports. Some suggestions included creating better methods to tracking repeat offenders, holding regular and recurring training on how to review reports and creating a process for serious allegations.

WKAR reached out to board members Dianne Byrum and Dan Kelly for an interview request. Neither responded.

Melorie Begay is the local producer and host of Morning Edition.
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