UM: Title IX policy gives report to accuser, accused
Lansing — The University of Michigan’s policies wouldn’t have allowed for some of the decisions that have been criticized in Michigan State University’s 2014 Title IX investigation of sports doctor Larry Nassar, a UM official said Wednesday.
UM Title IX Coordinator Pam Heatlie told lawmakers that the university’s Title IX procedure requires officials to check for conflicts of interest among expert witnesses used in an investigation. She also said the university would deliver identical reports to both the accuser and the accused at the conclusion of the investigation.
Heatlie’s explanation of the university’s policy differs from the process followed at MSU during its Title IX investigation into a 2014 complaint filed by student Amanda Tomashow against Nassar.
The testimony from Heatlie and her counterpart at Eastern Michigan University Wednesday was the latest in weeks of committee hearings on proposed legislation that is aimed at stopping someone like Nassar from persisting for so long.
Nassar will spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography and sexual assault charges. He’s been accused of sexually abusing more than 250 women and girls under the guise of medical treatment, some of whom say their complaints to university officials went unheeded.
Among the more than two dozen House and Senate bills is one that would create a state office or ombudsman to serve as a resource to Michigan universities and students participating in Title IX investigations. Title IX requires universities to investigate and rule on complaints of sex discrimination, harassment, violence or assault on campus.
In her 2014 complaint, Tomashow, then 24, alleged Nassar had touched her breasts and vaginal area for several minutes when she had visited him as a patient for hip pain.
In investigating the complaint, MSU interviewed three physicians and one certified athletic trainer who said the conduct was medically appropriate. All of them knew Nassar and two of them had worked with him before.
At the conclusion of the case, the university cleared Nassar and issued two separate reports, withholding key findings from the one provided to Tomashow.
Both Heatlie and Eastern Michigan University Title IX Coordinator Melody Werner said identical reports are given to the accused and accuser at the end of Title IX investigations at their respective universities.
Heatlie said in cases where UM used an expert witness, officials sought expert witnesses on campus and did a “conflict check” to ensure the witnesses did not know the accused or the accuser. Additionally, Heatlie said evidence is shared with both parties before a final Title IX report is issued, so if a conflict existed that the university missed either party could bring it up at that time.
“It’s actually quite uncommon to use an expert witness,” Heatlie said. “We’ve had one, possibly two cases in the seven years that this work has been within our office.”
Werner said she did not know all of the details of Tomashow’s case but said independence is essential for the success of the Title IX function “so that it is not beholden to any particular supervising entity that could put pressure on that office to come up with a finding.”
Heatlie also cautioned lawmakers that the Nassar case was an “extreme outlier” in the day-to-day work of UM’s Title IX office.
Lawmakers approved several substitutions for the post-Nassar House bills. Those substitutions will be considered at the next Law and Justice Committee hearing Tuesday.