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Posted on Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 7:17 p.m.

After Penn State scandal, U-M to set expectations for employees who suspect abuse

By Kellie Woodhouse

The Penn State scandal is likely to influence the University of Michigan's approach to how its campuses deal with suspected child abuse, President Mary Sue Coleman said Monday during a meeting with the executive arm of U-M's faculty senate.

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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs voted to approve a resolution to set expectations for a university community member who suspects criminal activity.

The resolution is in response to last month's Penn State scandal, in which university administrators were accused of covering up alleged child sexual abuse by longtime assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

The resolution expressly states that faculty should come forward if they suspect sexual misconduct or abuse. It also seeks the formation of mentorship training and education programs and requests that university administrators closely review all U-M programs that work with children.

"It is critical that students, staff, faculty and administrators take individual responsibility in matters of suspected or actual criminal activity," the resolution states. "This is true both for witnesses who believe they have credible evidence of criminal activity and for victims who may be reluctant to take on seemingly daunting and powerful opponents."

Coleman, who spoke at the advisory committee's public session Monday, said university administrators are in the process of creating a task force to examine policies for recording, reporting and preventing abuse.

She said there are "many, many places across the institution" where students, staff and faculty interact with children.

Kate Barald, chair of the committee, said there are nearly 100 university-sponored groups that interact with minors on a regular basis.

"What are the gaps in our policies and procedures and how might we address those gaps?" Coleman asked, adding that she wanted the faculty senate's help in identifying problems.

Rachel Goldman, a committee member and engineering professor, said university employees and students should be vigilant looking for and reporting abuse.


Former U-M football coach Rich Rodriguez talks with former Penn State coach Joe Paterno at a 2010 match-off.

Melanie Maxwell |

"There could be cases right now that we don’t know about. ... At Penn State it was going on for how many years and nobody knew about it," she said.

Engineering professor Kimberlee Kearfott, the committee vice chair, said the proposed resolution went a step beyond an email Coleman sent out a week after the Penn State scandal broke.

"Up to this point we've had statements (that) were more theoretical in nature," she said. "This is suggesting actions."

"Because we're so large, the university has a large risk for something bad to happen," she continued.

The resolution, accepted by the advisory committee, will go before the full senate next week, where committee members expect it will be the topic of lengthy discussion.

"It’s a complex resolution that I think is going to have interesting discussion in the Senate Assembly," said committee member and biology professor John Lehman.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Wed, Dec 7, 2011 : 3:11 p.m.

I'd like to see less conversation about risk management and more conversation about the rights of victims. Do individuals who are assaulted on university property feel as though the university fully supports them, or are victims getting the message that some perpetrators are more worthy of protection than they are?

Christy Summerfield

Wed, Dec 7, 2011 : 10:23 a.m.

This is something that should have been done the minute Michigan passed a law mandating that educators report any suspected sexual or physical abuse of a minor. It's absurd and shameful that the U doesn't have a policy already in place considering the law. Educators, nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists and various other professionals are required by law to report.


Wed, Dec 7, 2011 : 2:22 a.m.

Clearly a case of better safe than sorry. It's pretty clear that anybody witnessing anything illegal happening should do the appropriate thing and alert the proper authorities, but having it as a written policy will only protect the school from scandal and being caught with their pants down, for lack of a better phrase.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 3:45 p.m.

child abuse is a serious CRIME...if I could I would bump the font size of CRIME. CRIMES or suspected crimes should be reported to the police. Any "policy" other than "call the police" is ripe for "misinterpretation", "abuse" and "cover up".

Billy Bob Schwartz

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

The best way I can think of looking at this issue: if you wonder if you should report it, you SHOULD report it.


Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 11:37 a.m.

university-sponored ...


Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 10:49 a.m.

Michigan has a mandatory reporting law that would cover all faculty members. Thus, it is good that they are educating the faculty but the University has always had this responsibility. Also, are they extending the mandatory reporting to other employees? The faculty senate only has jurisdiction over tenured and tenure track faculty. The problem has always been the selective enforcement by the Administration in cases of sexual assault.

Joe Hood

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 5:32 a.m.

Oh wow, you mean it wasn't just the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts that had this issue? Gosh, who da thunk? And how long have the Church and the Scouts had policies implemented compared a brand spanking new talked about program from the university? I think the school should review the policies that have been implemented in response to past abuses at both of these organizations. I think any organization (AAPS, hello?) should be following the same standards practiced in the wake of the acknowledgment of abuse cases. This has been a total head in the sand reaction by too many for too long. After you learn the ugly truth about how offenders work, you understand how scary this issue really is. And though there is no way to point fingers at a particular type of behavior or personality, you can have systems in place where there are always multiple adults in the presence of children, that never as a leader are you allowed to be out of sight with a child. As both a Catholic and a Scout leader, I find the result of what these offenders have done appalling. Not only for what these offenders did to children but also in how leaders must walk on egg shells to not have any actions be seen as abusive or in any to be construed as "grooming."

Kai Petainen

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 3:35 a.m.

it's good that the university is leading and putting forth a resolution like this.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 3:26 p.m.

Get together a bunch of profs and discuss an issue. Bring a translator and a simplifier. I love profs (some in my family) and think they are great. I also know that they work in big words and complex ideas. This calls for directness and simplicity. You abuse, you are reported by anyone who knows of this, you are interviewed, if the evidence is there you will be arrested. No running to Dad or spouse or someone else for advice. Law says you report it or be prosecuted yourself.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 3:22 a.m.

"It's a complex resolution that I think is going to have interesting discussion in the Senate Assembly," ------------ What's the value of complexity? This is the problem. People want to come up with windy and complex policies that nobody will read, nobody will follow, and nobody will enforce. What's the use of this? Here's a policy for you: "Don't have sex with minors. Don't force anyone to have sex with you if they don't want to. Report any violations of this to the police." There's your policy. Reserve your discussion for things that need to be complex.


Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 1:12 a.m.

This new policy should be helpful.....Because I am sure nobody knew it was wrong to rape a 10 year old in the shower at Penn St?


Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 1:12 a.m.

Yes and if they are an 18 year old freshmen we can let them fend for themselves, especially if the rapist is a football player.

Kai Petainen

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 5:04 p.m.

if my memory is right... it was in 2000 or 2001. i met her once and we went for a walk around campus and chatted about life. she was a nice person, but she had a troubling story of what had (supposedly) happened to her. she had lost a lot of trust towards men. of course i have no way to verify the story and i'm not making any accusation. and that's about all i remember.


Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 10:35 a.m.

@Kai- did the case you are referring to occur in 2009 after the UM/OSU football game or do you know of another such case?

Kai Petainen

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 3:37 a.m.

many years ago... i briefly met a lady who made a claim similar to the one that you mention. when i hear what you say, i wonder how she's doing and i hope she's ok.