After Nassar Scandal, Education Department Launches MSU Investigation
By David Jesse
The federal government is sending another wave of investigators to Michigan State University to look into the university's handling of the Larry Nassar case, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Monday.
"This new Title IX investigation will look at systemic issues in the university's handling of sex-based incidents involving Dr. Larry Nassar," DeVos said in a press release. "Our Office for Civil Rights team will be in East Lansing shortly where they will join the Federal Student Aid team already on site. FSA is currently performing a Clery Act compliance examination regarding MSU's reporting of crimes committed on campus."
The Title IX act requires universities to investigate allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Under President Obama, the federal education department stepped up its investigations and added guidance to schools on how to handle these types of cases. DeVos has said she will roll back those guidelines and put new ones in place.
The Clery Act requires universities to issue timely notifications to the campus of a variety of crimes. The last Michigan university to be found at fault of violating the Clery Act was Eastern Michigan University, which was fined $350,000 in 2008 for covering up the murder of a student, Laura Dickinson, in her dorm room. At the time, it was the largest Clery Act fine ever.
That was surpassed in 2016, when the feds imposed a $2,397,000 fine against Penn State after extensive violations were uncovered in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Penn State announced on November 25, 2016, that it would not contest the fine.
MSU Interim President John Engler has said the university will cooperate with all investigations, something DeVos noted in the press release.
"I appreciated seeing acting President Engler's directive to the entire university to cooperate fully with our--and with all -- inquiries into the university's actions. We expect MSU's full and complete disclosure about its actions to protect students from sexual assault.
"The crimes for which Dr. Nassar has been convicted are unimaginable. The bravery shown by the survivors has been remarkable. My heart goes out to them as they have had to relive their horrific experiences and as they begin the long road to healing. Every student across every campus should know that I am committed to ensuring all students have access to a learning environment free from sexual misconduct and discrimination and that all institutions that fall short will be held accountable for violations of federal law."
Nassar has been sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting MSU student athletes and others, many of whom said they told MSU about the abuse only to have it swept under the rug.
Engler has hired former Michigan Chief Justice Bob Young Jr. to coordinate the response to investigations. Young is being paid $640 an hour for his work.
Engler has been aggressively hiring advisers and firms since taking over from Lou Anna Simon, who stepped down under tremendous pressure over her handling of the Nassar case.
Those additions include:
* Carol Morey Viventi, who was named to the newly created position of vice president and special counsel to the president. She will be paid $250,000 annually. She was a legal counsel and deputy chief of staff to Gov. Engler until 1994 when she was named Secretary of the Senate, a position she held for 20 years before heading to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and then to the Michigan Civil Rights Department.
* Bill Beekman, the secretary to the MSU board and former acting president after Simon stepped down, was named interim athletic director. Mark Hollis retired from the post hours before the release of a scathing ESPN report alleging problems in the athletic department.
* Longtime Engler aide John Truscott of Truscott Rossman has been brought in to work on crisis communications and planning.
* Kroll, an investigative firm out of New York, has been hired to handle sexual assault allegations.
* DLA Piper, the firm of former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, has been hired to represent MSU before Congress and in dealings with the executive branch. The firm is being paid $50,000 a month in retainer fees.
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