External review of University Title IX practices completed - May 20, 2022

To the Eastern Michigan University community:

As you may recall, in the fall of 2020, the University engaged an external firm, Cozen O’Connor, to conduct a fact-gathering investigation surrounding the University’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct against three former students who are facing criminal charges related to multiple off-campus incidents. The incidents in question occurred between 2015 and 2019.

Cozen O’Connor’s Institutional Response Group is nationally renowned for its work helping educational institutions, including colleges and universities, improve institutional responses to sexual and gender-based harassment and violence. The two principals engaged in the EMU work are former child abuse and sexual violence prosecutors who routinely conduct external investigations and help to build legally compliant and effective Title IX and Clery Act programs.

The University engaged the firm to determine whether the University had notice of potential misconduct by the three former students and what actions, if any, the University took based on available information. Over a period of 20 months, Cozen O’Connor reviewed the University’s conduct in the context of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, and University policy as each existed at the time of the alleged assaults. 

At the time we announced the review and in many subsequent communications, I affirmed that the results would be made public in their entirety and that any gaps in processes would be addressed aggressively, and today we are following through on that commitment.

The report has been completed and we are releasing it in its entirety: Cozen O’Connor: Report of External Review [PDF]. You are receiving the report in the same form the University received it; no material has been omitted, redacted, or withheld at the University’s request.

As we share the key findings and the processes behind the development of the report, it is important to reiterate several key points that we have stressed from the very beginning of these cases coming to light.

There is no place for sexual violence in our campus community and we will always take swift action to stop it. An important part of that commitment is communicating with students, faculty, staff and the community whenever something like this occurs, as well as providing information about the University’s handling of such cases.

The survivors who have come forward to talk about their assaults are brave. Their descriptions are heart-wrenching. The University shares in the survivors’ – and the community’s – frustration and anger that any student should experience sexual violence.

The University is, and has been, steadfast in its commitment to respond to reports of sexual misconduct.

The University's Title IX office takes its responsibilities very seriously and works diligently in those situations in which it is contacted about a sexual assault, to show compassion, express concern and actively support survivors, while encouraging them to pursue an investigation if they are interested and willing to do so.

As I noted at the outset, the University is and has been committed to full transparency throughout this process.

Cozen O’Connor’s work was comprehensive and holistic. The firm reviewed an extensive range of documents and interviewed 25 individuals (some on more than one occasion). The firm also reviewed the University’s current and past policies and procedures, training documents, email communications, University police records, a prior University audit, a comprehensive climate survey, and information regarding EMU’s Title IX office, as well as several other offices on campus. And, the University’s actions in these cases were compared to a broader sample of our Title IX case files over the relevant time frame. Cozen O’Connor also reviewed a wealth of outside information from local police departments and the prosecutors’ offices involved in the criminal charges against these men.

Notably, Cozen O’Connor’s report is a product of a neutral, impartial, and external fact-gathering process. The firm’s findings, observations, and factual synthesis are theirs alone, without interference or direction by University personnel or any attorneys retained by the University as to the content or outcome. Similarly, the University did not set the timing of the conclusion of the investigation or the completion of the report.

Key findings of the Cozen O’Connor review 

The report’s significant factual findings are as follows:

  • Although the University received at least one direct report of sexual assault regarding each of the three men who are currently facing criminal charges, in each case the report to the University was either made anonymously, or the complainant affirmatively chose not to proceed with a formal Title IX investigation on campus.
  • Cozen O’Connor did not find documentation or other evidence that the University had prior notice of the additional reports of misconduct outlined in the pending criminal and civil complaints regarding these assaults, until around the time those complaints were filed.
  • In 2018, the University’s Title IX Coordinator and Greek Life Coordinator became aware of generalized concerns raised by students relating to incidents of sexual assault within the Greek system at EMU. In response, the Title IX Coordinator and Greek Life Coordinator expanded education, outreach, and prevention programming specifically within the Greek community, including the development of an action plan by the student-led Inter-Fraternity Council (“IFC”), and a resolution by the University’s Student Government to educate and hold the IFC accountable for implementing the plan.
  • The Title IX Office’s case files did not consistently include all relevant documentation, including some key communications with parties, meeting notes, and the rationale for case-related decisions. This incomplete record-keeping limited the firm’s ability to provide as full and complete a picture of the University’s response as might have been possible had the Title IX Coordinator and the Greek Life Coordinator maintained more complete and contemporaneous documentation.

In addition to these findings, the report reviewed the then-existing University Title IX policy, which closely tracked the Title IX statute in effect at the relevant times. It also discussed and restated the results of a recent Title IX Campus Climate Survey conducted by the University, whose final results were also publicly released.

University perspective

The Report’s findings are largely consistent with the University’s internal factual investigation, and we have already begun a number of efforts to address not only the record-keeping deficit identified by Cozen O’Connor, but also the issues raised by the internal climate survey. 

I am heartened to learn that the University appears to have acted appropriately within its level of knowledge with regard to these complaints. However, it is clear we have work to do with regard to creating comprehensive records of our investigations and case files, as well as increasing campus-wide training and education regarding Title IX.

Everyone in our campus community needs to understand what Title IX is, what it does, and – critically – who to talk to if they need help. All students, but particularly survivors of sexual assault, should feel supported and empowered here.  We have allocated additional resources to Title IX to help us accomplish these goals, and are presently engaged in a wide-ranging effort in this regard, including stakeholders from around the university: students, faculty, and staff.

Previous external compliance review conducted in 2019

Prior to Cozen O’Connor’s review of Title IX compliance, the University initiated a comprehensive independent external review of Title IX policies and procedures in March 2019. That review was conducted by Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger, Esq., PLLC, who leads a distinguished team of attorneys and investigators with deep Title IX experience in higher education. Veidlinger’s final report [PDF] concluded that “Eastern Michigan University’s Title IX compliance office and related policies and procedures reflects that the institution has made a very meaningful commitment to addressing sexual misconduct in its educational community.” The University has committed to conducting such external reviews triennially, and is currently in the midst of the next such review.

Further actions to support students

Eastern Michigan University is committed to fostering a safe campus environment and encourages open communication between students and leadership, which is reflective of the University’s strategic plan commitment to promoting student success and engagement. We have implemented many measures to further support students. Please visit our “path forward [PDF]” to learn more.

There is no question that campus sexual assault is a serious challenge in our nation and one that must unite us in a powerful commitment going forward. Collectively, we must confront sexual assault and support survivors who bravely come forward to tell of their past victimization by other students.

Eastern Michigan University takes all claims of sexual assault and sexual misconduct seriously and is committed to the thorough investigation of such incidents. If you have any information or wish to report any incident of sexual assault or misconduct, please contact EMU Police at 734.487.1222 or at [email protected], or file an incident report with the EMU Title IX Office.

Thank you,
James Smith, Ph.D.