Feds hit MSU with $4.5M fine as provost abruptly resigns

Michigan State University | Susan J. Demas

The Larry Nassar and William Strampel scandals continue to plague Michigan State University. 

June Youatt | Facebook

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has determined that the university failed to comply with federal standards to sexual assault and discrimination and will levy a record $4.5 million fine against the institution. The DOE report led to the immediate resignation of MSU Provost June Youatt, the university announced on Thursday afternoon.

The fine was announced Thursday by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a Michigan native and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, who, in the past, has come under fire for her department’s new policies on campus sexual assault. 

“What transpired at Michigan State was abhorrent, inexcusable, and a total and complete failure to follow the law and protect students,” DeVos said. “Michigan State will now pay for its failures and will be required to make meaningful changes to how it handles Title IX cases moving forward. No future student should have to endure what too many did because concerns about Larry Nassar and William Strampel were ignored.”

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Title IX refers to the U.S. Department of Education code that protects against sexual discrimination for any education program or activity that receives federal dollars. 

The fine, DeVos said, was based on four material findings within DOE’s investigation: 

  • Failure to properly classify reported incidents and disclose crime statistics
  • Failure to issue timely warnings in accordance with federal regulations
  • Failure to identify and notify campus security authorities and to establish an adequate system for collecting crime statistics from all required sources
  • Lack of administrative capability

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For their part, officials at Michigan State University say they will take corrective steps outlined in the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) report, including the formation of a new oversight committee, new MSU President Samuel Stanley said in a statement.

“OCR’s letter of findings is very clear that the provost and former president [Lou Anna Simon] failed to take appropriate action on behalf of the university to address reports of inappropriate behavior and conduct, specifically related to former Dean William Strampel,” Stanley said. “In my effort to build a safe and caring campus, we must have a culture of accountability.”

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The investigation into MSU stemmed from charges against Strampel, an ex-MSU dean who was sentenced last month to one year in jail for abusing his position to harass female students, and Nassar, the former athletic coach serving effectively a life sentence for sexually abusing young women. 

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U.S. Education Department officials say they believe the fine announced against MSU will send a strong message to other colleges and universities.

“This resolution should demonstrate, beyond any doubt, this administration’s commitment to the vigorous enforcement of civil rights,” stated Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus. “There should be no question that we will hold colleges and universities accountable if they perpetuate sexual violence by failing to meet their obligations under Title IX.”

A statue on MSU's campus adorned with a teal ribbon
A survivor ribbon pinned on the statue of former MSU President John Hannah after John Engler’s resignation | Michael Gerstein

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights offered a similar sentiment. 

“MSU failed students, parents and the entire MSU community when they allowed a serial sexual predator to harm young women for decades,” MDCR Interim Director Mary Engelman said in a statement. 

“We are gratified that in their action today, the U.S. Department of Education has made it clear that protecting students is an obligation that MSU and all colleges and universities must meet,” she said. “We are also encouraged by the message of zero tolerance for sexual abuse and harassment from new MSU President Stanley, and his commitment to creating a culture of diversity and safety on campus.”

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