Four years after student's murder, EMU signs agreement on handling of sexual assault, harassment claims
Four years after Eastern Michigan University covered up the sexual assault and murder of a student in a campus dorm, the university has signed an agreement with federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights that lays out a series of regulations on how EMU will deal with allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
“The bottom line is that as a result of this review, the university will have a more effective procedure for dealing with (sexual assault and sexual harassment),” said S. Daniel Carter, the director of public policy at Security On Campus, a group that tracks safety issues. Carter noted that the Office of Civil Rights found that the university had inadequate channels for reporting allegations and for dealing with them after a complaint was filed.
Among other things, the agreement calls for EMU to set up new policies and procedures for handling complaints and allegations; designate a university employee as a Title IX coordinator to oversee the process of handling complaints; design new publications and training on what constitutes sexual assault and conduct an annual climate check with students. It also calls for ongoing reports to the Office of Civil Rights and says the office will visit the campus to make on-site checks to make sure the policies are being followed.
The agreement is the result of two years of discussions between the university and the federal government, EMU spokesman Walter Kraft said.
“We’re very much interested in working in a proactive and cooperative manner,” he said. “Many of these (items) are already in place. What this agreement provides is further structure for us a more robust focus to ensure that we are educating our students on these issues. Our goal is a campus free of sexual assault and sexual harassment.”
The OCR said that in entering into the agreement, the university makes no admission of wrongdoing.
EMU President Susan Martin signed the agreement on Nov.15.
EMU has been under scrutiny since Laura Dickinson was killed in her Hill Hall dorm room in December 2006.
She was discovered nude from the waist down, with evidence of a sexual assault.
However, university officials did not warn EMU students that Dickinson was murdered until they arrested Orange Taylor III for the crime two months later. Taylor was eventually convicted of the crime.
The OCR started its investigation of EMU following that the Dickinson murder.
“OCR wishes to thank the university for its cooperation in reaching an agreement that will have a long-lasting, positive impact for this university community, serving to enhance and build upon many actions the university already was taking,” a letter to the university from Catherine Criswell, the director of the Cleveland office, said.
In 2007, EMU reported four cases of on-campus forcible criminal sexual conduct. The university reported four cases in 2008 and three cases in 2009. EMU reported no cases of non-forcible criminal sexual conduct in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The OCR conducted an in-depth review of the universities policies, the agency said in a letter to EMU. OCR staff looked at all complaints filed, including incidents of professor-on-student sexual harassment; student-on-student sexual harassment and student-on-student sexual assault. Staff members also interviewed a number of university officials.
In its letter to EMU, the OCR pointed out several areas in which it said the university should improve, but stopped short of declaring those "findings" of violations. Among items OCR cited:
- “The university’s notice of non-discrimination does not fully meet the requirements.”
- “The university does not have a prompt and equitable grievance procedure for addressing student and employee complaints alleging any action prohibited by Title IX.”
- The policy does not tell people with whom they should file a complaint.
- The policy "does not provide appropriate procedures for the processing of any complaint, (e.g. timeframes for completion of the major stages of an investigation).”
- The policy "appears to only be applied to complaints of sexual harassment against faculty or staff.”
The letter from OCR to EMU also said Title IX training for staff was insufficient and no one was making sure the Title IX coordinators were doing their jobs. OCR also raised concerns about the handling of four complaints of sexual harassment.
Included in those cases was a complaint that a professor was “assigning sexually-related scenarios to act out and was making inappropriate comments during class." The letter noted the director of the Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action said she referred the matter to the academic department head, who agreed to speak with the student. But the student dropped the class, and the department head said the student's contact information was invalid. She said did not follow up with the professor or take any other action.
David Jesse covers higher education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 734-623-2534.