The University of Michigan’s Board of Regents officially has hired an outside firm to help guide its response to sexual assault complaints and help overhaul a culture many said led to the improper handling of accusations against high-profile employees.
Guidepost Solutions is an investigations, regulatory compliance, monitoring and security consulting firm that has served as the independent safety monitor for General Motors and as federal monitor of the New York City Housing Authority. It also has addressed sexual misconduct or discrimination matters at a number of public and private universities.
A former federal prosecutor, Asha Muldro, will lead the team working with U-M.
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“The key to our success here at the University of Michigan will be a solid and productive working relationship with the university community. Our focus will be to understand institutional needs, challenges and cultures to define solutions that are impactful and sustainable over the long term,” Muldro told regents Thursday. “This is a forward-looking constructive effort to work with the university in a changing environment.”
She said this project must bring together the campus community, its leadership and Guidepost with each having the same goals: establishing a program that is credible and has integrity.
“To achieve this goal, it is essential that we work closely with the university community. The planning and helping to implement the recommendations must be the result of collaboration to be successful.”
In 2020, the university has been rocked by two scandals. Hundreds of students, mostly athletes, said an athletic department doctor, Robert Anderson, sexually assaulted them. The other case involved at least eight women who said they were sexually harassed by Martin Philbert over decades as he rose up the ranks to become the university’s provost — the highest ranking academic officer and No. 2 person at the school.
The firm has a one-year contract, with a university option for a second year. It reports directly to the board. It will work with President Mark Schlissel and his administration, but not report to him.
The university will pay the company up to $400,000 for the work, the contract says. The contract also promises “public reports will be provided at a cadence that is mutually agreed upon but will include at a minimum the Regents’ regularly scheduled board meeting on June 17, 2021.”
Board chairwoman Denise Ilitch called the hiring an important step in making change.
“We recognize that outside accountability and perspective is critical in identifying and creating meaningful policy and cultural reform,” she said.
In hiring outside experts to come in and help the university, U-M travels down the same road as Michigan State University before political differences on the board scuttled that project, even after a firm had been hired. In MSU’s case, the board was reacting to the cover-up of athletic doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual assault of hundreds of female athletes, both at MSU and in the Olympic gymnastics movement.
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Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to go public about being assaulted by Nassar and who led the push to get MSU to take a similar step, praised U-M.
“I’m grateful to see the board of regents at U-M finally taking this step,” she told the Free Press. “Transparency and outside accountability are critical components for real change and my hope is that this is a first step in a long-term commitment to those ideals. What has become clear in the last year is that U-M is in desperate need of both policy reform and meaningful change in the culture of the university. …
“U-M’s commitment to this level of reform will need to be proven over the long-term, and coupled with justice for the survivors of Dr. Anderson and other abusers who were protected for too long on this campus.”
The board has hired the firm to make sure changes suggested by a pair of outside law firms in previous investigations are implemented. But the bigger task is changing a culture where many faculty and staff believe their complaints aren’t heard or acted on.
Some of that is because of how U-M operates as a highly decentralized institution, unlike somewhere like MSU, where power was tightly held in the president’s office.
In mid-November, U-M reached a $9.25 million settlement with eight women who were sexually harassed by Philbert.
Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj. Subscribe to the Detroit Free Press.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: U-M board hires firm to help guide culture overhaul at university