The University of Michigan has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by students who wanted the school to change how it protects students on campus from sexual misconduct.
The Ann Arbor school will create and fund a multidisciplinary standing committee to protect and prevent sexual abuse in the university community as part of the agreement, which was filed in federal court on Thursday.
About 30 people will make up the Coordinated Community Response Team, which will include Title IX and campus sexual misconduct experts, community members, and select members of the administration and faculty.
“But, most importantly,” said Nancy Cantalupo, an assistant professor of law at Wayne State University, “it has representation from students and survivors. They will all have a seat at the table alongside the other experts that are on the CCRT.
“And that will provide them with a direct line into the administration — and the upper levels of the administration — in terms of communicating their concerns and needs,” Cantalupo said in a videoconference call with reporters to announce the settlement.
Hundreds of men claimed they were sexually assaulted by the late Robert Anderson, a campus doctor who spent nearly 40 years at Michigan, and the allegations began to surface publicly in 2020. In 2008, he passed away. The university announced a $490 million settlement with Anderson’s accusers in January, which was separate from the class-action suit filed by Josephine Graham, a University of Michigan senior. According to the school, both agreements were reached under the supervision of a court-appointed mediator.
Mark Schlissel, the university president, was also removed earlier this year after emails detailing an alleged inappropriate sexual relationship between him and a subordinate were discovered. In addition, the university paid $9.25 million to eight women who claimed Martin Philbert, who rose from professor to provost, Michigan’s top academic official, over a 25-year period. In the year 2020, he was deposed.
“We know there is a breach of trust at this school,” said Graham, who did not seek monetary relief in his suit, which was filed in 2021.
The creation of the CCRT, which plaintiffs’ attorneys say is widely recognized by experts as an indispensable tool in the fight against campus sexual violence, is at the heart of the settlement, which still needs to be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts.
The university said in a statement that Michigan’s full CCRT will meet at least three times a year to “assess, plan, monitor, and evaluate sexual misconduct prevention and response efforts.”
An external adviser, a faculty member, and the university’s executive director of the Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office will serve as co-chairs. Tamiko Strickman, who also serves as a special adviser to school President Mary Sue Coleman, said she was inspired by a Coordinated Community Response Team at the University of California, Berkeley, which she sees as a model for the University of Michigan.
“Many of the CCRTs we found were smaller, and Berkeley seemed to be a very comparable institution to look at,” Strickman said. “As a result, I spent a significant amount of time learning about their CCRT.”
“With the CCRT, there are a lot of untapped areas that we can really capitalize on,” she said.
The team could “dive deeper into” academic research, according to Strickman, and “use that information to strengthen resources across campus.” For example, she said, the CCRT might examine studies on why under-represented people are less likely to report sexual misconduct and perhaps recommend to Michigan’s administration that a therapist be embedded within residence halls.