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University of Michigan Continues Defense of Sexual Misconduct Policy, Despite the Cost

Business school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor - stock photo
By Laura Temme, Esq. on October 21, 2019 9:04 AM

As universities and colleges across the country struggle to find the balance between believing victims and allowing for due process, the dispute over how the University of Michigan handles reports of sexual assault soldiers on.

By the end of last month, the University of Michigan had spent $1.6 million defending its policy - a move the plaintiff's counsel has called "tremendously arrogant." Both sides claim the other is to blame for the suit dragging on, but no matter how it ends, it is likely to impact other universities and colleges across the country.

The Road So Far

The heavily litigated case has spanned three years, numerous briefs, and even a decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last year. The plaintiff, a former U-M student threatened with expulsion when another student accused him of sexually assaulting her at a party, filed suit in 2016. He claimed the university had violated his due process rights because the university's investigation process did not allow for him to face and question his accuser. The Sixth Circuit agreed, handing down a decision that the university must provide students accused of sexual misconduct an opportunity to cross-examine their accuser. However, that ruling is limited to cases where the case relies on the accuser's credibility rather than other evidence, such as video or witness testimony.

We Can Do This All Day

The university revised its sexual misconduct policy following the Sixth Circuit's decision, but only because it was "necessary to follow the law." When University President Mark Schlissel released a statement on the matter, he expressed concerns that the ruling would lead to a one-size-fits-all approach, saying: "U-M respectfully submits that the Sixth Circuit got it wrong."

The decision overturns the "single investigator model" used by many universities in these cases, where one staff person communicates with each side and submits a report to the school. But, it seems the university is not ready to give up just yet.

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