Bill Ties Federal Funding to University Liability in Sexual Abuse Cases

A bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced legislation in Congress on Monday aimed at holding universities that receive federal funds accountable for cases of sexual abuse involving employees.

U.S. Representatives Elissa Slotkin, Fred Upton and Lisa McClain and Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow reintroduced the Education Leaders Accountability Act to report Title IX investigations (ALERT). US Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, and US Representative Brad Schneider, D-Illinois, also signed the law.

The law would require college leaders to submit an annual certification to the U.S. Secretary of Education recognizing that the school president, or similar official, and at least one school board member have reviewed all investigations into sexual abuse that have been reported in Title IX. coordinator that year involving an employee.

The certification would also require executives to confirm that the president and board members did not interfere or inappropriately influence any of these ongoing investigations.

“Culture is defined from above, and on a college campus senior administrators should be fully informed of allegations of sexual harassment and assault by all college employees,” Slotkin said, D-Holly. “We cannot let ignorance be an excuse … We need university leaders who act to protect the health and well-being of their students, and this bill will help ensure that no president of university cannot claim ignorance of a potential sexual predator in their employment. “

Upton, R-Kalamazoo, added that the law is important in ensuring that reports of sexual misconduct reach top university leaders.

“We should do all we can to protect the safety of students on college campuses. Our students deserve nothing less, ”said Upton. “The bipartisan ALERT law is an important step forward, ensuring that university leaders are informed of incidents of sexual violence on their campus. These reports can then be processed quickly and correctly. “

The bill has been introduced twice before, but has never left committee.

Initially, Peters, Stabenow and Cornyn introduced the bill in 2018 in response to Michigan State University’s handling of the Larry Nassar scandal that began in 2016 when a woman publicly accused the now-jailed sports doctor of sexual abuse. Hundreds of women then came forward and shared similar allegations. MSU officials said they were unaware of Nassar’s behavior, but reports showed that 14 MSU representatives knew about it in the two decades leading up to his arrest.

Colleges and universities that receive federal funds are required to establish procedures to respond to cases of sexual violence on campuses under Title IX. Schools must also have a Title IX coordinator to oversee investigations, coordinate disciplinary action, and ensure adherence to federal guidelines.

US Senator Gary Peters

But lawmakers have said those mechanisms are not enough and have reported cases where university leaders have failed to take action even after being made aware of complaints, as in the case of Nassar and the late doctor of the sport Robert Anderson of the University of Michigan.

“The ‘I didn’t know’ excuse can never again be used by university officials – they have a solemn responsibility to protect students,” said Peters, Township of D-Bloomfield. “Survivors, their loved ones and our higher education communities deserve better.”

McClain, a Republican from Bruce Township who is serving her first term and is assigned to the House Labor and Education committee that oversees matters relating to higher education, called what happened at MSU “tragedy”.

“When we send our children to college, we do so in the hope that the institution they attend will provide safety and security on their campus. Our youth should never be taken advantage of, especially by those in positions of power in a university. Many colleges and universities are doing a great job in this area, but we have to make sure that those who fall short are held accountable, ”said Mr. McClain.

The ALERT Act is supported by the American Association of University Women and the National Women’s Law Center.

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