The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has requested documents from the University of Michigan as part of a federal Title IX investigation that stems from the expulsion of a former Michigan football kicker for violating the school’s student sexual misconduct policy.
The Blade obtained a six-page notification letter dated Feb. 21, 2014, through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Addressed to university president Mary Sue Coleman and signed by team leader Donald Yarab, the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights notified Michigan of allegations of sexual discrimination in its failure to promptly respond to and investigate the alleged rape of a female student on campus.
Michigan confirmed the investigation last month.
Douglas Smith, a former Michigan professor, originally filed the complaint in August, 2013, and the Office of Civil rights is examining two issues in the investigation: If the university provided a prompt and equitable response to sexual violence complaints, reports, or incidents, as required by Title IX; and whether any failure by the university to provide that response allowed a student or students to be subjected to a sexually hostile environment.
Title IX is a 1972 federal law that establishes gender equity in education and mandates equal opportunities for men and women in schools that receive federal funding. While it’s known for sparking the boom in women’s athletics, it also requires safe and accessible learning environments for both men and women.
The letter requests information from the university pertaining to 21 points including:
■ University policies and procedures that address discrimination and harassment and any changes in those policies and procedures;
■ A description of how the university handles criminal complaints and how it handles confidentiality of those who report those incidents, including sexual violence incidents;
■ A description of law enforcement’s role in the university’s Title IX process and any documents or memoranda of understanding with campus and local law enforcement or related protocols,
■ All documentation of formal or informal complaints or reports of sexual harassment to the university from the start of the 2011-2012 school year to the 2013-2014 school year, and any follow-up documentation that pertains to meetings with staff and complainants.
The Office of Civil Rights denied a Blade FOIA request to access documents that UM has submitted relating to the case; a Department of Education representative told The Blade that it cannot release documents pertaining to an open investigation.
The Michigan Daily reported in January that former UM kicker Brendan Gibbons was expelled from the university for a violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy. Gibbons’ expulsion stems from an incident that occurred in November, 2009.
The Ann Arbor Police Department confirmed that while Gibbons was arrested for a November, 2009, incident, no charges were filed and the case was closed in 2010. There have been no other charges or prosecution against Gibbons.
Since the initial report of Gibbons’ expulsion, UM has declined to comment on the case and the investigation, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and Coleman said in a statement Jan. 31 that athletics did not influence the investigation or Gibbons’ academic standing.
Michigan’s Central Student Government established a task force to investigate Gibbons’ expulsion, the Office of Student Conflict Resolution’s investigation into the case, and the school’s implementation of its current student sexual misconduct policy.
However, the university last month denied the task force the right to examine documents from the Office of Student Conflict Resolution that related to the Gibbons case, citing federal privacy laws.