By Rick Fitzgerald
The University of Michigan and attorneys representing plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit have agreed to settle claims in the case with the creation of a broadly representative team designed to further protect the university community from sexual misconduct.
The class-action lawsuit being settled was filed by U-M student Josephine Graham, alleging that the university does not maintain or properly enforce sufficient policies and procedures for preventing and responding to sexual misconduct on campus. The class-action lawsuit did not seek monetary relief.
This settlement agreement involves institutional changes at the university and is separate from and in addition to the $490 million agreement announced in January with claimants who alleged abuse by the late Robert E. Anderson. That financial settlement is still being finalized. Both agreements were reached with the supervision and involvement of court-appointed mediator Robert F. Riley.
The core of this proposed settlement, pending approval by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, would be the creation of a Coordinated Community Response Team designed to broadly represent the university community, and provide input and advice on future policies, procedures and prevention efforts related to sexual and gender-based misconduct.
This team of about 30 representatives from across the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses would meet regularly to collaborate with university officials and advise the university on a wide range of approaches to prevent and address misconduct. Leading experts across the country consider this approach to be a best practice for colleges and universities that seek to enact serious reforms.
“The creation of the Coordinated Community Response Team is another important step toward our vision of becoming a national leader in protecting our community from inappropriate behavior and sexual misconduct,” said President Mary Sue Coleman.
“The structure of the team, which includes leadership from outside the university, will give a voice to all members of our community who have a perspective to share on this vital effort.”
Jordan Acker, chair of the Board of Regents, said creating the CCRT is one more way U-M will continue to listen to survivors as the university considers and assesses its prevention efforts.
“This commitment to keep listening is a university commitment that will extend to our next president,” said Acker, noting that the Board of Regents is in the midst of searching for the university’s 15th president. “Ongoing community input will help shape the policies and practices of the future.”
Under the settlement agreement, which was filed March 24 with the court, the CCRT will be co-chaired by an external adviser, a faculty member, and the university’s executive director of the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office. They are:
“I am encouraged to see U-M create this vehicle for amplifying a range of voices on the subject of sexual misconduct in our community,” Veidlinger said. “As a co-chair of the Coordinated Community Response Team, I am looking forward to working with members of the U-M community to develop positive steps forward in the fight to combat sexual misconduct.”
The CCRT will have approximately 30 members who will be broadly representative of the university community and the surrounding area. Members will represent survivors of sexual misconduct, students, faculty and staff from all three campuses, Michigan Medicine, Athletics and other aspects of the campus community; the SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor, which offers support to survivors of domestic and sexual violence; and the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office.
“This agreement will modernize U-M’s approach to preventing and responding to sexual violence and ensure our safety is a top priority,” said Graham, the student who filed the class-action suit. “The CCRT will allow greater input from those in our community, including students like myself, who can help create a better future at our university.”
While this agreement establishes the framework for the CCRT, the members of the group would decide its day-to-day work and operational procedures. The agreement also provides for the establishment of working groups to further expand those involved with providing input. Additional details will be shared in the weeks and months ahead following approval by the court.
The full CCRT would meet at least three times per year to address issues on an ongoing basis, and assess, plan, monitor and evaluate sexual misconduct prevention and response efforts. The co-chairs of this advisory group will meet regularly with the president and share updates publicly to provide accountability through transparency.
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By Rick Fitzgerald