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U-Michigan creates office to handle sexual misconduct, bias

July 15, 2021 GMT

DETROIT (AP) — The University of Michigan, rocked by scandals involving a senior official and a longtime doctor, is creating a new office dedicated to investigating sexual misconduct claims on campus, providing support to victims and offering education.

The office will have a broad mission, including to address civil rights issues and other categories of discrimination.

“We really need to promote a climate on campus where people feel safe and there’s mutual respect and they feel supportive so they can thrive,” President Mark Schlissel told The Associated Press.

Separately, supervisors will be prohibited from starting a romantic relationship with a subordinate. An investigation found that Martin Philbert, the chief academic officer, harassed graduate students and staff and had sexual trysts on campus before he was fired in 2020.

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Allegations about Philbert’s conduct going back many years had reached staff at certain points but no action was taken, according to investigators.

“What we learned from that episode is power dynamics often underlie episodes of misconduct, even serial episodes of misconduct,” Schlissel said.

He brought the changes to the Board of Regents on Thursday. The new office with a much larger staff will replace the Office for Institutional Equity.

“It’s taking an office that was just focused significantly on investigation and broadening it to include care and support and prevention and education,” Schlissel said. “Those activities were in different parts” of the campus.

Jordan Acker, chairman of the governing board, said communication is critical.

“One of the things that we learned is information in the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” he said.

The university is dealing with another scandal: the sexual assault of hundreds of men by Dr. Robert Anderson, who worked there for decades until 2003. He died in 2008.

Investigators hired by the university said allegations against Anderson were known but no one got rid of him. Some said they had informed football coach Bo Schembechler and athletic director Don Canham. Both are deceased.

The university is in mediation with lawyers for Anderson’s victims over a likely financial settlement.

Schlissel declined to comment on calls for Schembechler’s statue to be taken down and his name removed from a football building.

“We’re being disciplined in not speaking publicly related to the Anderson investigation. ... We’ve been asked by the courts not to have any public comment,” Schlissel said.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez