In wake of Penn State, Michigan scandals, senators want college presidents held accountable
A trio of U.S. senators has introduced a bill to hold college presidents accountable for certifying that reports of sexual abuse that threaten the safety of students and others on campus have received proper attention.
The lawmakers cited the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, where an assistant football coach was convicted of abusing boys in and around the campus for more than a decade and the recent Michigan State University case of Larry Nassar, a sports medicine physician who was convicted of sexually abusing young female athletes, including Olympic gymnasts, for decades in the guise of providing medical care.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the bill introduced by Michigan Democrats Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would cover colleges and universities that receive federal funds and close loopholes that could allow allegations of abuse reported to the school to slip through without top administrators properly acknowledging them.
Like the Penn State scandal that culminated in the dismissal of the university president and two top administrators who failed to report allegations against Sandusky, the Nassar scandal triggered a massive shake-up at Michigan State including the resignation of the university’s president and athletic director in the wake of reports that there had been multiple reports of Nassar’s activities over the years.
The senators introduced the Accountability of Leaders in Education to Report Title IX Investigations, or ALERT Act , Thursday. Colleges that received federal funds are required to investigate allegations of sexual discrimination and abuse under Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act and have procedures in place to coordinate disciplinary action and ensure compliance with it.
“However, in both the Nassar and Sandusky cases, university leaders failed to take action on or even claimed they were unaware of reports of sexual abuse by university employees, despite the fact that official Title IX or external investigations had been conducted,” the lawmakers noted in statement announcing the proposed bill.
The ALERT Act would require colleges to certify annually that the school’s president, or equivalent officer, and at least one other member of the Board of Trustees have reviewed all incidents involving employee sexual misconduct that were reported under Title IX.
The annual certification also would require confirmation that neither the president, or equivalent officer, or board member had interfered with or inappropriately influenced an ongoing investigation.
Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @deberdley_trib