Dept. of Ed says MSU created 'hostile environment'—and school says it's already being fixed

University officials say they have already improved their process

The Department of Education determined that Michigan State University's process for handling sexual assault and harassment cases violated Title IX, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced last week.

The investigation took four years.

In fact, the investigation took so long that Michigan State officials say that they began to improve their sexual assault and harassment response independently.

Two student complaints initiated the case—one filed in 2011 and a second filed in 2014. Both students alleged the university unfairly handled their reports of sexual violence.

OCR ultimately determined that Michigan State did not respond quickly enough to either report, in addition to being noncompliant in other ways. That response delay, it says, potentially contributed to a "sexually hostile environment" on campus.

Michigan State released a response the same day as OCR's letter—in which the university noted that it had already begun implementing many of OCR's recommendations. The university says it did not let OCR "delay our process," but rather has "been constantly making improvements."

For example, OCR mandated that Michigan State provide financial, academic, and counseling support to the complainants. University officials said they have already attempted to contact the students for this purpose.

However, President Lou Anna K. Simon conceded that the university should make speeding up sexual assault and sexual harassment cases a goal. "We have to work through how we take the time to do thorough investigations yet maintain urgency and compassion by completing them as quickly as possible," she said in a statement.

And OCR acknowledged that Michigan State's sexual assault hearings were particularly fair. The office also praised some aspects of the university's process in the two cases it investigated.

Ultimately, Simon said she views the OCR findings not as "an end of a process," but as "yet more input we can use to help us move forward" (Thomason, "The Ticker," Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/1; Thomason, "The Ticker," Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/2; Kingkade, "HuffPost College," Huffington Post, 9/1).

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