The Department of Education ordered Michigan State University on Thursday to pay a $4.5 million penalty for failing to protect students from rampant sexual abuse.
“The crimes for which Larry Nassar and William Strampel have been convicted are disgusting and unimaginable. So too, is the university’s response to their crimes,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on a Thursday morning call with reporters. “This must not happen again. There or anywhere else.”
The penalty, part of a resolution agreement signed by MSU, was announced after two Department of Education investigations concluded this week: the Clery Act investigation, which requires schools to monitor and disclose statistics about crime on campus, and the Office of Civil Rights investigation, which oversees Title IX, the federal civil rights law created to ensure gender equality in education.
The $4.5 million fine is the largest ever recorded of the Clery Act. For context, MSU’s penalty is nearly double the amount of Penn State’s $2.4 million penalty following the 2011 investigation into sexual abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
“Students are our focus and we are committed to their safety on campus,” said Mark Brown, Federal Student Aid chief operating officer. “Our findings and the required corrective actions should serve as a reminder to all schools that we take seriously our commitment to vigorously enforce the Clery Act and protect all students. Any school that falls short will be held accountable.”
Both investigations analyzed MSU’s response to rampant sexual abuse perpetrated by Nassar, the university’s former sports medicine doctor, and Nassar’s former boss William Strampel. Last year, Strampel was charged with willful neglect of duty and accused of sexual misconduct himself.
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The Clery Act and the OCR investigation found that MSU failed to properly classify reported incidents of sexual misconduct and failed to issue timely warnings to other students in order to prevent further abuse.
As part of the resolution agreement, MSU will overhaul its Title IX procedures in hopes of preventing future sexual abuse. In addition to changing Title IX procedures, MSU will have to take other corrective actions such as: 1. Employ an independent Clery Compliance officer who will report to a high-level executive; 2. Create a new Clery Compliance Committee that includes people from over 20 offices across campus who will play a role in campus safety and emergency management; and 3. Establish a system of protective measures and expand reporting to ensure protections of student-athletes.
The university will also have to review and consider punishment for current and former MSU employees who knew of Nassar’s abuse and failed to take action.
“We will conduct this review, and once completed, if further personnel actions are needed, we are prepared to take them,” MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., who took office last month, said in a Thursday statement.
It’s estimated Nassar abused over 500 athletes under the guise of medical treatment during his decadeslong tenures with MSU, USA Gymnastics and Twistars, a local Michigan gymnastics gym. Nassar is currently serving a life sentence on child sexual abuse and child pornography charges.
Strampel, the former dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, was arrested last year on charges of willful neglect of duty and sexual misconduct. He was accused by at least four female MSU medical students of groping them, soliciting them for nude photos and promising opportunities in exchange for sexual favors. Although Strampel was acquitted on some of the more serious sexual misconduct charges, he was sentenced to one year in prison earlier this month.
“In my effort to build a safe and caring campus, we must have a culture of accountability,” Stanley concluded in his response to the resolution agreement.
“The agreements with U.S. Department of Education further remind us that we failed survivors and our community. Following very thorough reviews, these agreements raise several concerns with university processes and policies,” he continued. “While we have made some improvements, it’s by no means sufficient or the end of the road. I know the magnitude of our responsibility and am determined MSU will act thoughtfully with our focus on survivors and the safety of our community.”