MSU: Counselor kept on job years after sex complaint

The Detroit News

A Michigan State University counselor was kept on the job for years after a sexual harassment complaint was lodged against the employee in 2009, the university said Wednesday.

The incident was among those noted in a lengthy report released Tuesday following a four-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and confirmed by the university Wednesday.

The federal office reviewed 150 grievance files and found concerns in 30 of them — including the case involving the counselor, said MSU spokesman Jason Cody.

The student notified the leadership of the MSU counseling center in 2009 about a “creepy or inappropriate line of questioning” by a counselor at MSU. The director at the time was made aware of the allegations and addressed the concerns internally. The exact actions taken, Cody added, were not clear since they were not part of the grievance file.

Under new leadership in 2013, the counseling center received a second complaint about the counselor. This time, the director immediately notified Title IX and the counselor was removed from that division while a full investigation was made. Ultimately, the probe led to the counselor’s termination, Cody said.

During the course of the latter investigation, Cody said, other complaints came to light.

“Any period of time during which the counselor sexually harassed students is too long,” Cody said. “... As soon as leadership in 2013 discovered it, they took correct action.”

The Office of Civil Rights, in its report released Tuesday, concluded the university mishandled two student complaints of sexual misconduct by failing to investigate them properly. The move, the report says, may have led to a hostile environment on campus.

The university, it said, also committed numerous violations of the federal Title IX law prohibiting sex discrimination, such as failing to ensure that students and employees knew the identity of the school’s Title IX coordinator.

Federal officials began investigating MSU in 2011, and the review has resulted in the university entering into an agreement to address several concerns.

President Lou Anna Simon on Tuesday said the university has already taken steps to address issues raised by the federal investigators.

However, she acknowledged that the failure to respond in a more timely manner to students who complained could have been handled differently.

“We could have done better,” Simon said.

University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University also are under investigation for their handling of sexual misconduct complaints, along with more than 100 other universities across the country.

MSU entered into a resolution agreement with the Office of Civil Rights to address concerns about Title IX compliance. It states that the university entered into it voluntarily, and does not constitute an admission by the university that it failed to comply with Title IX.

Among the changes MSU agreed to make: Revise its complaint procedures to comply with Title IX; train staff on how to properly conduct and document Title IX investigations, and provide mandatory training biannually on how to recognize and report sexual harassment to all university faculty and staff.

MSU also must issue a public statement that the university prohibits sexual harassment, amend its notice of nondiscrimination, and ensure its revised policies and grievance procedures include various provisions.