Fed report cites MSU for failing to report crimes, including Nassar allegations

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Larry Nassar survivors and others gather in the snow at the steps of the Hannah Administration Building on MSU's East Lansing campus Thursday night to mark the anniversary of his sentencing.

Michigan State University violated federal law by failing to accurately disclose crime statistics for years, including the sex crimes of serial pedophile Larry Nassar, according to a U.S. Department of Education report.

The university also failed for years to issue timely warnings of other crimes on campus, mostly robberies and burglaries, according to the government.

The report, based on a 2018 investigation that began as Nassar was incarcerated for sexually abusing girls and young women, evaluated MSU's compliance with the Clery Act, a federal law requiring the disclosure of crimes on or near campus through statistical reports and warnings to students and staff. Failure to comply can result in fines. 

The report, issued to MSU in December and obtained Wednesday by The Detroit News, identified "several areas of serious noncompliance." 

It outlined 11 "representative sample of incidents" dating to 1997 involving complaints against Nassar that were not included in MSU's crime statistics.

"None of these crimes were ever recorded through any of the University’s normal incident reporting processes, and, as a result, were never included in any of Michigan State’s crime statistics disclosures," the report said. "These violations date back to at least 1997, and involve victims, many of whom were minors at the time of the abuse, who reported these incidents to trusted adults, including coaches and athletic trainers."

In one such incident, a former MSU athlete reported to her former strength and conditioning coach that Nassar had touched her inappropriately, according to the report. The coach informed an associate director of athletics but both "failed to properly report Survivor K's allegation of sexual abuse as required."

Neither employee was named in the report.

Additionally, five victims reported crimes to campus security authorities, the report continued.

"Each of these crime victims reported conduct that clearly rose to the level of a Forcible Sex Offense or an incident of Fondling," the report said. "Moreover, the crimes reported by these individuals, as well as those crimes reported by each of the other survivors whose cases are summarized in Finding #2, unquestionably posed a serious, ongoing threat to campus community members, and, most specifically, to female patients of MSU Sports Medicine."

The report also said it found evidence that MSU's Sexual Assault Program "did not produce or maintain adequate documentation about crimes that were reported, and did not provide data for inclusion in the University’s crime statistics because officials and staff believed that they were exempt from Clery Act reporting requirements."

MSU issued a statement Wednesday saying it will focus on improving accurate and transparent campus crime reporting to comply with the Clery Act.

“The safety and well-being of our campus community is our top priority,” said MSU acting President Satish Udpa. “The Nassar crimes caused so much pain to so many people, and we have more work to do to address those issues and support the survivors and our community. We welcome the opportunity to work with experts to review and strengthen areas as we renew our commitment to improve.” 

Many trustees could not be reached for comment. Trustee Joel Ferguson said Wednesday he was not aware of the report. 

"I'm not aware we’ve messed up," Ferguson said. "But if we have, we will try to correct it right away."

In 2008, Eastern Michigan University paid the Department of Education $350,000, one of the largest such fines levied, for violating the Clery Act by failing to alert the university community about the 2006 murder of student Laura Dickinson in her dorm, and other violations.

Besides MSU's failure to report the Nassar crimes, the DOE report identified several areas of noncompliance by the university, including failing to issue timely warnings to students and staff as required by federal regulations.

The report highlighted 21 instances between 2011-16 in which MSU did not promptly warn students and staff about other crimes, mostly burglaries and robberies.

"Failure to issue timely warnings to notify the community of serious and on-going threats deprives students and employees of vital, time-sensitive information, and effectively denies the campus community the opportunity to take adequate steps to provide for their own safety and to increase their situational awareness," the report said.

The evaluation of MSU's compliance with the Clery Act was prompted by media reports about Nassar's assaults on hundreds of young women and included an examination of the university's "publications, written agreements, police incident reports, investigative reports, arrest records, and disciplinary files, as well as the University’s policies, practices, procedures, and programs related to the Clery Act," according to the report.

The report concluded with a recommendation that "Michigan State re-examine its campus safety and general ... policies and procedures on an annual basis to ensure that they accurately reflect current institutional practices and are compliant with Federal regulations."

"The findings documented by the Department constitute serious violations of the Clery Act that, by their nature, cannot be cured," the report said. "There is no way to truly 'correct' violations of these important campus safety and crime prevention laws once they occur.

"Michigan State also must bring its programs and operations into compliance with the Clery Act in a manner that will provide reasonable assurance that these violations will not recur."

MSU must develop a corrective action plan and to conduct an institutional self-study to address the issues outlined by investigators.

"In implementing this corrective action, FSA strongly recommends that the University hire an independent professional or engage a consultant with the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities to conduct the file review and to develop and implement compliant Timely Warning and Emergency Notification policies and procedures," the report said.