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Jacques: Michigan State fined record $4.5M for failing to protect students in Nassar scandal

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Michigan State University will pay a $4.5 million fine and overhaul its Title IX compliance procedures under an agreement reached with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

The Education Department is announcing the fine and corrective action this morning following its determination of MSU's "complete failure to protect students" from sexual abuse, DeVos said in an exclusive interview with The Detroit News.

The investigation was related to the serial molestiation of student athletes by sports doctor Larry Nassar, and included former MSU dean William Strampel, who oversaw Nassar. 

The department says that MSU has agreed to the terms and signed a resolution agreeing to the corrective actions it must take under Title IX, the federal law a governing sex discrimination in education. 

“It became increasingly clear that any process that MSU had simply was not working, and, more accurately, broken,” DeVos says. “I’m very thankful for the detailed and careful approach that each of these investigations took to what had gone on there.”

William Strampel

This announcement follows the conclusion of two separate investigations by the department. The Federal Student Aid office oversaw the Clery Act investigation, which requires universities to post crime statistics  and to communicate danger to the campus community in a timely fashion. 

FSA officials say this is one of the most important Clery investigations the department has ever undertaken, given the breadth of abuse and length of time over which the abuse took place. 

The fine is the largest in the history of the Clery Act, and it’s nearly twice the $2.4 million the department had levied against Penn State, following its investigation into the 2011 scandal at that university involving the assistant football coach. Previously, the largest Clery Act fine was the $350,000 paid by Eastern Michigan University in 2008 for failing to disclose a murder on campus. 

In addition to the fine, MSU must take corrective action, including the following:

  • Employ an independent Clery Compliance Officer, who will report to a high-level executive.
  • Establish a new Clery Compliance Committee that includes representation from more than 20 offices that play a role in campus safety, crime prevention, fire safety, emergency management, and substance abuse prevention.
  • Create a system of protective measures and expanded reporting to better ensure the safety of its student-athletes in both intercollegiate and recreational athletic programs.
Larry Nassar

In its separate investigation to the abuse, the Office for Civil Rights, which oversees Title IX, reviewed hundreds of sexual assault reports, as well as thousands of related documents and interviewed 47 witnesses, including survivors. The OCR found that MSU failed to properly respond to reports of abuse of Nassar and to take corrective action. 

MSU has signed a resolution agreement to address the Title IX violations, including:

  • Make substantial changes to the University’s Title IX procedures and ensure that certain officials recuse themselves from Title IX matters.
  • Take remedial actions to address the impact of the sexual misconduct by Nassar and Strampel on students, faculty and other staff within the College, the Sports Medicine Clinic, and related facilities, programs and services.
  • Provide a process for those victims of Nassar, who have not otherwise had an opportunity to seek remedy, to come forward and seek remedies to which they might be entitled.
  •  Review the actions of current and former employees of the university who had notice but who failed to take appropriate action in response to reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar or Strampel and consider appropriate sanctions against those employees.

DeVos says that while MSU was already subject to multiple investigations, it was a top priority for her that the Education Department followed through with its own investigations.

“We wanted to be in a place where we are supporting those students who were wronged,” she says.

These investigations at MSU fit into the broader efforts the Education Department is taking to revamp its campus sexual assault guidelines under Title IX. The new rules ensure due process is preserved in investigations and that all students are treated fairly. DeVos says the department is “deep into the final rule process” and continuing to read through and respond to the 124,000 comments it received in response to the proposed changes. That is on track to be completed this fall.

“The bottom line is we have to advance a very solid framework for this process -- one that is fair to all students, and one that is to be relied on by institutions,” DeVos says. “We need to make sure that the final regulation is a very clear framework for schools.”

While she has received criticism for the proposed rule changes -- including from Nassar survivors, DeVos says the former policy in place during the time the Nassar abuse took place clearly wasn’t sufficient. 

“What happened there should never happen anywhere else again,” DeVos says.