New MSU president no stranger to campus controversy

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Samuel Stanley Jr. participates in a question and answer session after being named Michigan State University's 21st president, May 28, 2019.

Incoming Michigan State University president Samuel Stanley Jr., who takes over the school Aug. 1 in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal, is no stranger to controversy.

There are three open investigations into allegations of Title IX violations at Stony Brook University in New York state, where Stanley has been president since 2009.

There also have been several lawsuits filed against Stony Brook over the university's handling of students' sexual assault claims.

According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights website, the agency is investigating Stony Brook for two claims, filed March 8, 2017, for gender harassment and denial of benefits; along with a 2014 sexual violence allegation.

A former student, Sarah Tubbs, in 2015 filed a Title IX complaint alleging that university officials did not take seriously her allegation that she'd been raped by a fellow student at a party in 2014. After the Title IX claim was dismissed, Tubbs filed an appeal, which was rejected. She then sued the university.

Despite dismissing Tubbs' lawsuit last year, U.S. District Court Judge Nelson Román said her case raised “distressing issues” about the university. 

“The Court is not saying that University Defendants were model citizens, nor that their process was ideal,” the judge wrote. “Even though University Defendants could have — and perhaps should have — demonstrated greater compassion in handling a sensitive allegation, their responsibility derives from the need to be nominally vigilant about access to educational opportunities through the loose framework of a discrimination statute.

“Although the court is sympathetic to the plaintiff’s difficulties, unfortunately the law in this area repeatedly sings the same tune, ‘You can’t always get what you want,’” the judge wrote.

In an ongoing $3 million lawsuit and Title IX claim filed last year, former student Erin Mosier says a history professor subjected her to sexual harassment and discrimination.

Mosier claims the professor engaged in "a campaign of demeaning and degrading sex discrimination ... including both private statements made during office hours and public humiliation during class," according to the 21-page suit.

The professor's alleged statements to Mosier included: "You are nothing but a pretty face;” “All you are is a dumb blonde;” “You will only get positions in life if you use your body;” and “women have no right being in the workplace."

Merrily Dean Baker, Michigan State athletic director from 1992-95, who served on the Office of Civil Rights committee that helped draft the Title IX legislation in 1972 under President Richard Nixon, said universities often drop the ball when handling allegations.

Baker, who has appeared as a court witness as a Title IX expert, declined to address the allegations against Stony Brook, since she said she wasn't familiar with those cases. But she said university administrators tend to go into "survival mode" when presented with allegations of Title IX abuses.

"Too many times, institutions become more concerned with protecting their project instead of protecting their students," Baker said. "That’s a big problem. That’s the greatest failure I see with Title IX — when (officials) get an allegation, they quickly go into survival mode so they don't look bad.

"Having said that, any Tom, Dick or Harry can throw out an allegation; until it's been investigated and adjudicated, you can't draw any conclusions," Baker said.

MSU has faced scrutiny over its handling of Title IX complaints, especially one filed in 2014 by Amanda Thomashow, who alleged Nassar had massaged her breast and labia during an appointment for a cheerleading injury. Former MSU president Lou Anna Simon faces criminal charges of lying to police about whether she was informed that Nassar was the subject of the complaint.

In addition to the Title IX claims, 42 Stony Brook professors in 2017 sent a letter to SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson saying they had a "deep and pervasive lack of trust and confidence in the current leadership" because of how the university handled financial issues.

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