Motivated by the terrible crimes of sexual abuse committed by Larry Nassar at Michigan State University, and Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University, the U.S. Senate has introduced a bill that would hold university and college leaders accountable for any sexual abuse that happens under their administration. Larry Nassar, a sports doctor, was recently sentenced for molesting hundreds of girls and women entrusted to his care. In 2012, Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to 30-60 years for molesting boys.
The bipartisan group of senators are calling the legislation the ALERT Act, which stands for Accountability of Leaders in Education to Report Title IX Investigations.
Title IX requires any university or college that receives federal funding to establish clear procedures that enable the prompt response to incidents of sexual assault. To ensure compliance with federal guidelines, schools must also have a Title IX coordinator who is responsible for overseeing investigations and carrying out disciplinary actions. The ALERT Act would require that schools also submit annual certification that the President or Chancellor of the school, along with at least one other member of the Board of Trustees, has reviewed all incidents reported to the Title IX coordinator that year involving employee sexual misconduct.
The legislation is sponsored by Senators Gary Peters, and Debbie Stabenow, both representing the state of Michigan, along with Senator John Cornyn of Texas. They aim to protect future generations of students by holding educational leaders publicly accountable for taking sexual abuse more seriously. In both the Nassar and Sandusky cases, although Title IX investigations had been conducted, university leaders failed to follow through and take action. They also denied knowledge of the investigations. The ALERT Act would require that schools confirm there had been no interference with an ongoing investigation by any board member, President, or Chancellor.
In both the Penn State and Michigan State cases, the consequences for the university were severe and costly. Graham Spanier, who was president of Penn State at the time of the Sandusky scandal, and two other university officials received sentences with jail time, fines, and community service for failing to protect the welfare of children. The university’s reputation was tarnished as well as that of the football program that Sandusky was a part of.
The Nassar case eventually brought about the resignation of its president, Lou Ann K. Simon, on the same day Nassar received his prison sentence. Afterwards, the Faculty Senate issued a vote of no confidence in its Board of Trustees – an indication of how tensions remain on campus even after an attacker has been held accountable.
As these cases and the new legislation demonstrate, when sexual assault happens on campus, the stakes are high for educational institutions and their leaders. Attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser are available to present preventative training to our clients to avoid incidents of misconduct or harassment, to assist in the investigation process, and defend such claims when they are asserted. For more information about the services we provide, call 484-318-7106 or contact us online.