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Posted on Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 9:57 a.m.

Penn State could learn lessons from EMU's failure to report crime

By Staff

ABC News draws parallels between the alleged sex abuse scandal at Penn State University and the way Eastern Michigan University handled the investigation into the murder of student Laura Dickinson in 2006.

The story is one of several in national media outlets in recent days about what can happen to a university if it fails to properly report and investigate crimes since allegations arose that former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused children.

Dickinson’s body was discovered in her dorm room in December 2006 nude from the waist down, with evidence of a sexual assault. The report from ABC includes a 2007 video in which Dickinson’s parents and her boyfriend spoke about the university initially telling them there was no foul play involved in Dickinson’s death.

EMU was found to have violated the federal Clery Act in failing to warn EMU students that Dickinson was murdered until they arrested Orange Taylor III for the crime two months later. Taylor was eventually convicted.

The federal government issued a $350,000 fine against the university. Three top administrators, including university President John Fallon and Public Safety Director Cindy Hall, lost their jobs in the ensuing fallout.

The university also signed an agreement with the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights laying out a series of regulations on how EMU must deal with allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Read the ABC story.

(This post was revised to reflect that the video accompanying the ABC report was originally aired four years ago.)


Steve Pierce

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 6:51 p.m.

Later requests for the Doyle letter were again denied and Sidlik would not return subsequent calls about the Doyle letter or his pledge for openness at EMU. So now we have the Kwame debate and a lack of disclosure of how student funds and taxpayer money is being spent to support Kwame Kilptrack coming to speak at EMU. EMU is carefully selecting its words to not fully describe or disclose what money is being spent on Kwame's visit to campus. Mr. Larcom then wrote in defense of EMU in an earlier post where he said: "A new leadership team exists -- from president, to police chief, to general counsel, to head of student affairs. In addition, EMU now has a vice president for communications, who ensures proactive communication with the EMU community and the public." Once again, EMU is pledging institutional openness and honesty and in that spirit of openness, full disclosure and "proactive communication", EMU should release an unredacted copy of the Doyle letter. Cheers! Steve Pierce

Steve Pierce

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 6:50 p.m.

On September 3, 2003 then EMU Vice-president for Finance Patrick Doyle wrote a letter to EMU Regent Jan Brandon. The three page Doyle Letter, as it was to be called, was always rumored to explain the finances surrounding the controversial University House, the newly constructed home of the President. EMU had claimed the house cost less than $3 million dollars and EMU Regents and President repeatedly claimed no student or taxpayer money was spent on the house for then EMU president Sam Kirkpatrick. A later audit conducted by the state showed that the house cost nearly $6 million and student and taxpayer money had been used to pay for the house. Mr. Larcom's former employer, the Ann Arbor News sued EMU in a Freedom of Information Act case asking for a copy of the Doyle Letter. The Ann Arbor News, not too surprisingly, lost the case when the Appeals Court and Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of EMU. The Doyle letter came back up during the EMU Murder investigation. During a press conference, then EMU Regent Chair and still member Thomas Sidlik promised a new openness at EMU after the firing of then EMU President John Fallon over the debacle of the murder investigation of Laura Dickinson which eventually led to $2.5 million payment to the Dickinson family and nearly $400,000 penalty paid to the Department of Education over Clery Act violations. During the news conference regarding the murder of Dickinson and the firing of Fallon, Regent Sidlik pledged a new openness at EMU. Sidlick was later asked during his news conference, since Sidlik had pledged a new spirit of openness at EMU, would Sidlik release the Doyle letter. Sidlik, during the news conference, said he would consider it. [Continued in the next post]


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 4:44 p.m.

DOYLE LETTER : I used to visit EMU on a regular basis in the past as my son was a student there. He obtained a bachelor's degree from EMU on 12-16-07 and I could not find other opportunities to visit the campus. There is this problem about dissemination of information and we often hear as to what the University wants us to hear. I would be happy if Steve Pierce tells us a little more about this Doyle Letter.

Steve Pierce

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 2:43 a.m.

Mr. Larcom, Glad there have been so many positive changes at EMU. In that spirit of openness and change for the better, how about releasing the Doyle Letter that was part of the University House Scandal? Steve Pierce


Mon, Nov 21, 2011 : 5:59 p.m.

Man-Management and Administrative Policy: Geoff Larcom, the Director of Media Relations, EMU has shared a list of improvements at EMU which include better buildings, hiring of Police personnel, equipment like cameras, better reporting, and dissemination of information. But none of these improvements either individually, or collectively can prevent the problem of Sexual Harassment which when unchecked proceeds to Sexual Abuse. I fully understand that Geoff Larcom can only speak on behalf of EMU and he has no ability to establish administrative policy at EMU. I am not surprised that he would not like to provide an answer that pertains to the Policy issue. But, he must not doubt the maturity, and wisdom of the readers with whom he is willing to share some information. The information that he has given and the crime statistics have no significant relationship to the problem of Sexual Harassment or of Sexual Abuse unless the Policy establishes the foundation, provides the rules and regulations to report incidents that pertain to minors, visitors, and other civilians not employed directly by EMU. I undesratnd there are State and Federal Laws to report criminal incidents and we have seen at Penn State that those Laws are not adequate and abuse could happen over several years and the problem may not come to surface unless the Institution takes responsibility to cultivate a "CULTURE" that discourages such sexually charged behavior and conduct.


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 5:03 p.m.

Sexual Harassment Policy : I am pleased to have Geoff Larcom openly participating in this discussion forum and responding to comments from the readers. EMU has signed an agreement to implement a Sexual Harassment Policy and take administrative measures to protect people from harassment and sexual abuse. I would like to know if EMU had changed its written policy after this agreement. If it is changed, or existing as before, I want to ascertain if the policy affords protection to minors and other members of the community who may be visiting the University buildings for official or private functions and unofficial activities. I have expressed a similar concern about Sexual Harassment Policy at University of Michigan. I have a little more intimate knowledge about U of M. I have written about an incident in which a U of M onduty Police officer had sexual intercourse with a female security guard who was also on duty,( but had worked for a private contractor), inside University building. There was a different incident in which several young children were discovered sleeping over the floor inside the U-M Exhibit Museum of Natural History, 1109 Geddes Avenue after the building was closed to visitors and general public. Apparently, a staff member was hosting a night sleepover party for a group of young children without informing the Department of Public Safety. The concern is about children, minors, and other adults who could be on University property for a variety of reasons and very often the Police Department and Public Safety Department could be unaware of the activities unless formally reported. I am generally well aware of Sexual Harassment Policies. At Penn State and at U of M, it appears that the written policy does not include the term visitors and public members present on University property. Kindly clarify the current situation at EMU.

COE Faculty

Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 3:45 a.m.

Penn State -- like EMU -- not only violated the Clery Act by not informing the campus community (STUDENTS) -- but then participated in a cover up. "Same circus, different clowns." EMU had to pay a $350,000 fine to the Department of Education and then "settled" with Laura Dickinson's family for $2.5 million. Penn State will be paying quite handsomely for essentially repeating EMU's actions.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 9:58 p.m.

I don't find it to be a stretch. I actually was thinking the reporting was somewhat similar. Although the police were involved from day one with the Dickinson case, there was still a cover up in place from that day until Taylor's arrest. Penn State tried hard to cover this up and if they had it their way, Joe Pa and Sandusky would have went to their death before it ever came out. I do, however, wonder why it's coming out now some 30 years later.

Geoff Larcom

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 9:12 p.m.

Great point, Cash. It was not my intent to disparage our police force, who did excellent work during that time. The results of the criminal investigation speak to that. I am simply noting the varied steps EMU took since then that underscore the University's broad commitment to the safety of our students and staff.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 11:31 p.m.

Mr Larcom, Thanks for that! Yes, there were many steps taken. I think it's important for people to realize that EMU was never rotten to the core. EMU had some administrators who worried more about the image than the truth. They are LONG gone. You might say this was a case of the 99% doing a great job and the 1% not being truthful and failing everyone. EMU paid a high price for the behavior of that 1%. And the 99% who are honest and trustworthy paid that price as well. They have received a lot of unfair criticism. Thus, we must always be careful to stress the 99% have always been honest and hard working people.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 11 p.m.

While it was kind of you to respond to the criticism in the way in which you did (see Cash's comment above), in my opinion you manifested diplomatic forbearance in doing so. There is nothing in your comments that states or implies or insinuates that the added veteran Ann Arbor police office were "more respected," only that they were respected. I remain unclear as to why some feel the need to read into things more than is there. When they do so, it is nearly always in a negative sense. Thanks for the information on the changes that took place after this tragedy. They were well needed, if not too late for Laura Dickinson and her family and friends.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 7:30 p.m.

Mr Larcom, "EMU increased police and dispatch staffing, including adding a group of respected veteran Ann Arbor police officers. " That's quite insulting to the excellent EMU police officers who played NO part in the cover up! The former police CHIEF was let go as part of the house cleaning. I really resent you insinuating that the hiring of an Ann Arbor police officer made the department more"respected." The EMU officers have ALWAYS been respected....LONG before the cover up ever happened. The administration was totally at fault for this cover up, not the hard working EMU police.

Geoff Larcom

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 7:12 p.m.

This approach of this piece is surprising, in that it presents 2006 interviews with Tom Sidlik, then chair of the EMU Board of Regents, as if they happened recently. And the reporter being interviewed by Diane Sawyer offers detail from the in-depth self-investigation EMU completed in 2006 as if he'd just discovered it. But far more important are the measures EMU has taken since this tragedy. * The police chief now reports directly to President Susan Martin, who reads the daily police reports. * In 2009, EMU dedicated a new $3.9 million police headquarters, repurposing an old building (Hoyt Center) and turning it into a state-of-the-art facility. * EMU now has about 400 surveillance cameras on campus. * EMU increased police and dispatch staffing, including adding a group of respected veteran Ann Arbor police officers. * Installed swipe locks in first-year dorms and instituted a "Gotcha" program where staff checks student residence hall rooms to ensure they remain locked. * A new leadership team exists -- from president, to police chief, to general counsel, to head of student affairs. In addition, EMU now has a vice president for communications, who ensures proactive communication with the EMU community and the public. * An open and respective environment has been established among the leadership team to encourage the sharing of information, and training in how to properly report issues has been implemented. * EMU's system mandates transparency, and public and proactive dissemination of information such as crime notices that might be considered negative, in order to empower the campus community. Implementation of these and other initiatives make a significant positive impact among current and prospective students, and faculty and staff. Our crime statistics show a dramatic decline in recent years. Note: Geoff Larcom, who helped cover the 2006 murder while a reporter at The Ann Arbor News, is now director of media relations at EMU.

Tony Dearing

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 7:43 p.m.

Geoff, thanks for this information. The post has been revised to make it clear that the video accompanying the ABC report is a file video from a 2007 broadcast.

Nikki River

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 6:36 p.m.

I find it odd that ABC fails to mention that this happened five years ago. I guess they decided that it would sound more sensational if they implied that this just happened recently. Isn't it ironic that ABC chose to hide a significant fact in their story slamming EMU for hiding significant facts.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.

Universities need to remember they are not above laws. Moral, legal or any other kind.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:36 p.m.

I was a student at EMU during this time and remember this vividly, especially with the current Penn State issues at hand. My thoughts and prayers are still with the Dickinson family. I hope they have been able to find some peace in the years since the tragic loss of their daughter. I didn't know her personally, but as a student at the time I want her parents to know that the EMU community has not forgotten about Laura.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:35 p.m.

A video I made about EMU and their violation of the Cleary Act with a friend who was questioned BEFORE it was ever disclosed as a murder. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

This one is a stretch. My understanding of the situation at EMU was that they worked with police from day 1. While, as it turns out, they should have been more forthright with the informaiton to students, this was all done with the end goal of catching the perp., not covering up. Big difference.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 5 p.m.

Not really. According to the ABC story (did you read it?), &quot;An investigation initiated by EMU's Board of Regents concluded that school officials had endangered students to protect the university's image -- the same allegations that are being made today at Penn State.&quot; While nondisclosure may have been in part due to a misguided effort on the part of the university and law enforcement to catch the criminal, it also was done to try to protect their image, all the while endangering the rest of the EMU population (and, perhaps, beyond). And, irrespective of their motivation, they clearly violated the Clery Act, legislation specifically meant to avoid such coverups. Although the summary does not mention it, in addition to the $350K fine, the Dickinson's prevailed to the tune of $2.5 million in a civil lawsuit against EMU for their misdeeds. One can hope that EMU and other universities have learned their lesson based on these fines and civil awards but, as the debacle at Penn State shows, some of those in charge of addressing such wrongs continue to turn a blind eye to the crimes (or, so far in the case of PSU, alleged crimes).


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:38 p.m.

Watch my video, it chronicles a timeline of the events from the perspective of an EMU student.... and another EMU student who was questioned and made to submit a DNA sample days after her death, months before it became public that it was a murder. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>