U-M overhauls its approach to addressing sexual misconduct
New office will lead this work with focus on care, support, education, prevention
The University of Michigan has announced sweeping revisions to its approach to addressing sexual misconduct, including the creation of a new office with significant new resources for support, education and prevention, as well as sharing new details on a process that will include the development of shared community values.
The new multidisciplinary unit—the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office—will house many of the critical functions around equity and civil rights work, including Title IX, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other forms of discrimination. This will replace and subsume the university’s Office for Institutional Equity.
The university also announced policy changes that include prohibiting supervisors from initiating a romantic relationship with anyone they supervise.
U-M announced the changes during the July 15 Board of Regents meeting. President Mark Schlissel outlined the holistic approach in his opening remarks and regents offered their unanimous support for the new office and policy revisions.
The changes come as the university continues progress on its commitment to change the culture across all three campuses to one where all members of the university community—students, faculty, staff and visitors—feel safe and supported.
Many of the changes also are being made as part of the university’s work with consulting firm Guidepost Solutions in response to the recommendations made by the WilmerHale law firm in its report on the sexual misconduct of former Provost Martin Philbert.
“The sweeping changes and actions we are announcing today are informed by the input of hundreds of people within our community and national best practices,” Schlissel said. “This includes faculty and staff who have been engaged in these issues for years, students who have shared their experiences and committed members of our faculty governance groups.”
The president said that for any organization to truly change, it must first look to its current culture to “ask whether its current culture reflects our desired values and behaviors.”
“Answering that question requires us to evaluate all facets of the university,” Schlissel said. “This is where a new chapter of our journey as a university community begins.”
Schlissel said the university’s goal is simple: “to transform our university and its culture to reflect the core beliefs of our community and prioritize the principles of care, support, education and prevention across our institution.” He said the changes will address concerns about OIE while also taking additional important steps of adding support and care resources.
The changes and actions being announced and others that will come are aimed at preventing harm, the president said, like the harm detailed in the external report into the misconduct of Philbert.
“They effect structural change for the university and empower members of the university community. They address lived experiences and fears in our community, and the feeling among some that survivors have nowhere to turn,” Schlissel said.
“As president of this university, and on behalf of the regents and university community, let me say today and always to those who may have suffered harm, that we believe you. We value you. And we want you to come forward with trust and confidence in our systems and without the fear of retaliation.”
Jordan Acker, chair of the Board of Regents, said this was “an important day for the university and our community.”
“Today, we continue the process of holding the University of Michigan accountable for harms that happened on our campus,” he said. “I apologize but commit to you that there will be no compromising on our efforts to make sure this never happens again.
“With your collaboration and our collective commitment, we will get this right, so it never happens again on our campus. We believe you. We value you, and we want you to come forward with trust and confidence in our systems without fear from retaliation.”
Acker thanked his Board of Regents colleagues for their leadership and the Guidepost Solutions team for their guidance.
“I want to pledge to the community, to survivors, to our students, faculty, staff and alumni, that this is not the end of the road, but the beginning of our collective journey to hold this institution accountable,” Acker said. “We have an obligation to be the leader when it comes to national best practices and I welcome your continued engagement, as well as my colleagues, in making sure we get there.”
Asha Muldro, who leads the Guidepost Solutions team working with U-M, said, “The actions announced today place the University of Michigan in line with national best practices, and with its resource commitment and the creation of the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office, a comprehensive function focused on prevention that will lead with care and support.”
She thanked university leaders for their commitment to best practices and said the steps being announced by the university mean U-M “has committed to becoming the premier program for equity, civil rights and Title IX in the nation.”
Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX
The new Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office will be created in the coming months with a new focus on support and prevention while continuing to investigate allegations of misconduct and discrimination. The office will get significant additional resources to bring the new focus to life.
The new office will report directly to the president under the continued leadership of Tamiko Strickman who will serve as special adviser to the president and executive director of the new unit.
“Tami Strickman’s leadership has been pivotal as we worked through these changes and she is the right person to lead us into this new era of preventing and addressing misconduct and discrimination in our community,” Schlissel said.
The office will encompass the full breadth and depth of the work necessary to transform the university’s approach to misconduct to one of care, support, education and prevention while continuing to conduct investigations. Regents approved the new unit and the appointment of Strickman to the new leadership position.
Reporting directly to the president demonstrates the importance of this work to the entire university community. Counterpart offices on the UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint campuses will report to the chancellors of those campuses, and there will be regular collaboration and coordination between Strickman’s team in Ann Arbor and the staff on the regional campuses.
ECRT will transform the way it handles initial outreach to complainants and respondents by assigning an equity specialist to each case, who will be the primary point of contact throughout. This is a change from the current practice where the assigned OIE investigator is the one who handles initial outreach. Job postings for these important new positions will be live in the coming days.
Strickman said ECRT will “shift the focus from one of investigations to one that provides care and leads with support and prevention.”
Equity specialists will be part of a support team to improve coordination of supportive services to all who report misconduct and to serve as a resource to all parties from initial intake through resolution. Strickman believes this will help move the first impression of the office to one of support and prevention from an office solely focused on investigations.
There will be greater collaboration with the university’s long-established Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Center that remains a part of Student Life and the creation of a research committee to strengthen the working relationship with faculty experts on campus.
SAPAC Director Kaaren Williamsen said having a unit within ECRT dedicated to prevention, education, assistance and resources for faculty and staff is critically important.
“This work of ending sexual and gender-based violence requires dedication, boots on the ground and a collective effort,” she said. “This is a big moment for Michigan and I am excited to see how this can positively impact our community.”
Strickman emphasized that the work of ECRT will be informed by and collaborate with faculty researchers to ensure that the office is abreast of best and emerging practices.
“We will partner with these experts to continuously examine and improve our practices and procedures,” she said.
Additionally, the new structure will add a resolutions officer who will work with the Title IX coordinator to track outcomes of all investigations and ensure appropriate follow up on all matters. The resolutions officer also will assist units that may have questions about appropriate sanctions for those found to have violated university policy.
One of the most transformative changes, according to Strickman, is the creation of a team dedicated to prevention, education, assistance and resources. This team will be better positioned to coordinate services, even when those services are outside of the ECRT.
The team will consist of staff dedicated to faculty-staff outreach on the Ann Arbor campus, staff dedicated to the health care environment at Michigan Medicine, and staff assigned to handle climate assessments and responses. The group will work collaboratively with SAPAC, Organizational Learning, CRLT and other units to offer innovative prevention and support training. The team also will track patterns and trends across the university community in order to fine-tune training and prevention efforts, and could grow over time to include a cadre of campus volunteers.
Overall, the new ECRT could get as many as a dozen new positions, most dedicated to prevention and support work. Investigations will continue to be handled within the unit. With the additional positions working alongside the investigators, the process should get more efficient over time as investigators are able to remain focused on that work. New technology also will aid the overall work of the new office.
Strickman said the changes would create a different feel within the new office and in how the staff engages with the campus community.
“With a focus being one of support, we want people to really feel comfortable reaching out to us as a resource and feeling comfortable throughout the process,” she said.
Culture change process
A campuswide working group on culture change will lead an effort over the next 18 months to “create an environment of mutual respect and accountability that is free from retaliation, where everyone can feel safe to report misconduct and feel supported throughout the process.”
The working group will oversee the development of a universitywide statement of shared values and desired behaviors through a process that will include robust engagement with faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders across all three campuses and Michigan Medicine. This effort is part of the university’s work with the consulting firm Guidepost Solutions to create a set of unifying, shared values and set a lasting high standard for campus behaviors, systems and practices.
U-M has put in place a best-practices policy that prohibits a supervisor from initiating or attempting to initiate an intimate relationship with anyone they supervise. A supervisor who violates the policy could face dismissal. U-M Provost Susan Collins discussed the policy, called a Standard Practice Guide, as part of a broader outline of steps the university is taking to address matters of climate at the university and supporting a culture of respect for all employees.
The university has revised its policy on emeritus status for retiring faculty members to include, for the first time, a process to revoke that status from faculty members for misconduct or other compelling circumstances.
Work continues on developing a final “umbrella” policy regarding sexual and gender-based misconduct while the university awaits new guidance from the federal government, expected yet this summer. The interim policy—put in place last August to meet federal guidance at that time—will remain in effect on all three campuses and Michigan Medicine.
The Interim Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct includes common definitions for prohibited conduct, including sexual and gender-based misconduct, and Title IX misconduct; separate procedures for addressing allegations against students and those against employees and third parties; and further clarifies available confidential resources and ways to report misconduct.
Read the interim policy: sexualmisconduct.umich.edu/umbrella-policy
Protections from retaliation
Work also continues on a new standalone policy that will strengthen and clarify the university’s position against any form of retaliation. The current interim umbrella policy on sexual and gender-based misconduct prohibits retaliation against anyone who reports an incident of prohibited conduct, or who participates in a university process related to such an incident. Other policies have similar language prohibiting retaliation. A team will continue its work toward developing a clearer policy explicitly prohibiting retaliation across the university community.
Hiring and promotions
Work continues to enhance the process for how candidates for board-approved appointments and major outside hires are scrutinized prior to appointment. The WilmerHale report recommended that U-M could improve vetting procedures for significant hiring decisions, such as ensuring that information about policy violations and other misconduct by candidates is available to decision-makers and systematically considered with respect to internal candidates.
Title IX advisory group
The university has established a large advisory committee of students, faculty and staff to provide perspectives and input on policies, procedures, prevention efforts and other matters related to sexual and gender-based misconduct. The committee, which will break into subgroups for some of its tasks, will work closely with Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Seney and Brigid Hart-Molloy, deputy Title IX coordinator. Subgroups will begin meeting in the coming weeks.
Members of advisory group: record.umich.edu/articles/title-ix-coordinator-advisory-committee
Ethics and compliance
The university will examine its compliance and ethics function across the university to consider whether it is aligned with best practices around the country.
Improving reporting channels
Earlier this month, the university’s website was updated to improve access to ways in which sexual or gender-based misconduct can be reported to police or to the university. The new approach makes it easier to find contact information for where to report on each of U-M’s three campuses and provides a link to online reporting tools.
Additional details: sexualmisconduct.umich.edu/reporting-process