In the wake of several sexual misconduct allegations against faculty members at the University of Michigan—including a former provost—The Detroit News reports that UM has hired an independent consulting firm to help “assess and change the culture of sexual misconduct” at the school.
Mark Schlissel, the school's president, says that the consulting firm will provide some outside accountability to help the school implement several recommendations made by the law firm that investigated the former provost. Their hope is to “prevent and address sexual misconduct and create an environment and culture where everyone in our community feels they can report misconduct without fear of retaliation.”
The Ramifications when Schools Hire Outside Consulting Firms
The fact that a college or university would hire an independent firm to help them shore up their sexual misconduct policies is something of a double-edged sword. Considering that UM is reportedly paying their firm a total of $400,000, it demonstrates their seriousness about providing better protections to students. On the other hand, the involvement of an outside firm strongly suggests that the school's policies regarding sexual misconduct will ultimately be tightened. While no one would interpret a “crackdown” of this sort to be a bad thing—everyone wants to prevent more victims—an unintended consequence of crackdowns is that they can make the situation more precarious for students and teachers who have been falsely accused.
The Ramifications for Those Accused of Misconduct
What can happen when a school seeks outside consulting to review and tighten its misconduct policies? While it will likely make students feel safe on campus, it can affect the rights of the accused in two distinct ways:
- It may make it more difficult for accused students to have a fair chance at defending themselves. Tightening policies tend to favor alleged victims and create a culture where the accused is treated as guilty until proven innocent (although this would never be admitted to by the school).
- It may cause accused students to face enhanced or even parallel investigations. Title IX protections against sexual harassment are uniform for all schools, so if a university employs outside consulting, it generally means they are revamping their own internal policies regarding sexual misconduct. This means a student accused of misconduct could be facing parallel inquiries.
If you are a college or university student who has recently been accused of some sort of sexual misconduct, you are likely already coming in at a disadvantage. If your school is facing additional pressure to strengthen its policies and penalties for misconduct, that disadvantage could be multiplied. To “level the field” and better your chances at a fair investigation and a positive outcome, it's critical to have outside help of your own. Hiring an experienced attorney-advisor can give you that extra advantage. An attorney-advisor can provide expert guidance on your school's disciplinary policies while helping to safeguard your rights. Don't face sexual misconduct allegations on your own. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.