Procedure For Sexual Misconduct Investigations at Michigan State University
Sexual misconduct allegations in a university setting are serious, and can have serious, life-long consequences. It is important to understand what is going to happen during the course of these investigations, and to ensure that you put yourself in the best possible position to avoid a finding of responsibility for sexual assault or sexual harassment.
At Michigan State University, the office that investigates allegations of sexual misconduct is called the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), whose director is designated at the Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Investigations. Discipline is imposed by a Sanctions Panel which is part of the Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution unit, if the Office of Institutional Equity makes a determination that you are responsible for sexual misconduct.
The following is a description of the procedure that is utilized by Michigan State University in investigating an allegation of sexual misconduct and in imposing discipline:
A complaint is made.
A sexual misconduct investigation begins when a complaint is made to the Office of Institutional Equity by a university student, employee, or a third party.
The complaint can be made by the “complainant,” or the person who claims to have been subjected to or have been the victim of a sexual assault or sexual harassment. A complaint can also be made by a third party who has knowledge of an alleged sexual assault or alleged sexual harassment.
If a complaint is made to the Office of Institutional Equity, OIE will also encourage the complainant to make a report to the police if the reported conduct constitutes a crime.
A complaint can be made by a university employee. Employees of Michigan State University are required by their sexual misconduct policy to act as a mandatory reporter of sexual misconduct. This means that if an employee of Michigan State University, which includes nearly all faculty and staff of the university, learns about allegations of sexual misconduct by either a student or other faculty, they are required to report it to the Office of Institutional Equity or face termination of their employment.
The OIE investigator will meet with the complainant.
Upon receipt of a complaint, the OIE investigator will meet with the complainant within five days of receipt of the complaint. The investigator will notify the complainant of the initiation of the the investigation, the potential policy violations, the right to participate in the investigation, the timeframe for responding, and that the investigation can proceed without the participation of either party.
The OIE investigator will meet with the accused student.
Within five days after meeting with the complainant, the OIE investigator will meet with the accused student. The investigator will notify the accused student of the initiation of the investigation, the potential policy violations, the right to participate in the investigation, the timeframe for responding, and that the investigation can proceed without the participation of either party.
The OIE office will decide whether or not to utilize interim measures.
The OIE office will evaluation and determine whether or not they should utilize “interim measures” while the investigation is pending. Interim measures are steps that the university can take while the investigation is pending. They can include things like academic assistance, alternative housing placement, no contact orders, removal of student from campus, changes to employment or academic assignments, referrals to on and off-campus services, or a voluntary leave of absence.
While most of the interim measures are designed to protect the complainant and not the accused, the policy provides that the accused is just as entitled to request interim measures that are favorable to them as well. The accused student can request things such as accommodations in your classes, a change in your campus housing, or to withdraw from classes without financial or academic penalty.
The OIE investigator will conduct an investigation.
After notifying the complainant and the accused student of the investigation and their rights and responsibilities during the investigation, the OIE investigator will begin their investigation. The OIE investigator will complete an interview with the accused student, an interview with the complainant, as well as any other witnesses they wish to interview. These witnesses may be witnesses that the investigator has discovered in their own investigation, or whose names have been provided to them by the accused student or the complainant. The investigator will choose which witnesses they want to interview, and which witnesses they do not.
The investigator may also attempt to obtain other types of evidence, such as social media, text messages, photos, videos, or other electronic evidence. If there is a criminal investigation being conducted at the same time as the university investigation, the investigator may also request that law enforcement provide them with copies of their reports or other evidence collected by the police. The investigator may also complete a site visit at the location of the alleged incident, if possible.
This investigation will typically be completed within 60 days. The accused student and the complainant will be notified of the completion of the investigation within 25 days after the investigation has been completed.
The accused student is not required to attend the interview with the investigator. As an accused student, you must be very careful in proceeding with the interview. Whenever there is an allegation of sexual misconduct, the possibility of criminal charges being brought is always present. Those criminal charges carry extremely serious penalties – some up to life in prison. Whatever you say during the course of the interview with the university investigators can also be used against you later in a criminal investigation. Even if you are not admitting to illegal conduct, any statements you make can later be twisted to be used against you, or you may confirm details of the complainant’s account of the incident that could not otherwise be confirmed.
There is a balancing act in participating in this interview, because on one hand, you want to do everything you can to avoid criminal charges that carry serious penalties, but on the other hand, you want to cooperate with the university to the extent that you can avoid serious academic discipline. Having an attorney to guide you through the process will help you navigate this balancing act.
The university’s policy states that a decision not to make a statement or submit to an interview will not be given an adverse inference, or held against the accused student.
During the investigation process, the accused student has the right to choose and consult with an advisor. This person can be your attorney, and your attorney can help to ensure that anything you say during the course of the interview is not going to cause you harm in the academic or criminal proceedings.
During this process, the accused student and the complainant will both be given the opportunity to submit questions to the investigator that will be asked of the other party. These are sometimes referred to as “cross examination” questions. The OIE investigator will ultimately decide if the submitted questions are appropriate, and whether or not to ask the questions.
The OIE investigator will issue a preliminary investigation report.
After the OIE investigator completes their investigation, they will issue a preliminary investigation report, and notify the accused student and the complainant. The accused student and the complainant will both be given an opportunity to provide comments about the investigation report, and to ask any questions they have regarding the report.
The OIE investigator will issue a final investigation report.
After the accused student and complainant have completed their review of the preliminary investigation report and provided any commentary about the report, the OIE investigator will issue a final investigation report that includes a finding about whether or not the accused student is responsible for a violation of the sexual misconduct policy.
In order to find the accused student responsible for a policy violation, the OIE investigator must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the accused student violated university policy. This means that the investigator must determine that it is more likely than not that the accused student engaged in some form of sexual misconduct in violation of the university’s policy.
The final report will be issued within 25 days of receiving comment from the parties or from completing any additional investigation that might be required as a result of those comments.
The accused student and the complainant will be notified of the final outcome of the investigation.
When the final investigation report is issued, both the accused student and the complainant will be notified, at the same time, of the final outcome of the investigation. They will also be provided with information about the rationale of the outcome, as well as the process for appealing the final outcome.
If no violation is found, the complainant will have 10 days to appeal that decision.
If the final investigation report concludes that it is not more likely than not that the accused student committed a violation of the university sexual misconduct policy, then the complainant will have an opportunity, within 10 days of receiving notice of the final investigation report, to appeal that determination.
The appeals are heard by the Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution unit.
If a violation is found, the final investigation report will be turned over to the Sanction Panel.
If the final investigation report concludes that it is more likely than not that the accused student committed a violation of the university sexual misconduct policy, then the final investigation will be turned over to a Sanction Panel, part of the Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution unit for the purpose of imposing sanctions against the accused student.
The Sanction Panel will impose a sanction against the accused student.
After receiving the final investigation report, the Sanction Panel will review the report and issue a sanction against the accused student within seven days of meeting to discuss the final investigation report. The Sanction Panel can also review statements that are submitted by the accused student and/or the complainant. These sanctions can include a warning, probation, restitution, change of residence, no contact order, educational programs, behavioral contract, suspension, or dismissal.
The accused and complainant have the opportunity to file an appeal of the sanction.
After the sanction has been issued, both the accused student and the complainant will have the opportunity to file an appeal of the sanction or the determination.
An appeal of the sanction must be completed within ten of the accused student and complainant receiving notice of the sanction. The party who is not appealing will be given ten days to respond to the appeal of the appealing party.
If you have been accused of sexual misconduct at Michigan State University, Keeley Blanchard is an experienced attorney representing students accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment in Title IX proceedings at the university and in criminal investigations and proceedings.