Ruling paves way for new programs targeting sexual misconduct

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A federal district judge has approved a settlement reached in March between the University of Michigan and attorneys representing plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit. The ruling settles 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 now 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.

The agreement, approved Aug. 3 by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, 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 the latest settlement is 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.

Starting with the upcoming academic year, this team of about 30 representatives from across the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses will meet regularly 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.”

Paul Brown, 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 is universitywide, shared by our entire board and by our president-elect, Dr. Santa Ono,” Brown said. “Ongoing community input will be critical in helping shape future policies as they are developed.” 

Under the settlement agreement, 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:

  • Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger, an external expert with experience evaluating institutional responses to sexual misconduct and identifying areas for improvement. She will serve for at least the first three years. She is an attorney who works as a Title IX consultant, conducting investigations, adjudications, training and compliance consulting in the areas of campus sexual assault and K-12 sexual misconduct. She also has served as an intermittent lecturer at the Law School, teaching a course titled “Title IX and Higher Education Law.”
  • Sandra Levitsky, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and associate professor of sociology in LSA, who studies gender and sexuality. She currently is analyzing how colleges and universities respond to outside pressure to address sexual violence on campus, including a longitudinal analysis of the policies and practices of 380 colleges and universities.
  • Tamiko Strickman, special adviser to the president and executive director of the university’s Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office. Strickman is an attorney and a Title IX professional with more than a dozen years of experience with sexual misconduct matters. She has been at U-M since 2019.

“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 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.

While this agreement establishes the framework for the CCRT, the group’s members will 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.

The full CCRT will 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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