Bill Would Require University Leadership to Review Sexual Abuse Cases Involving Employees
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (MI) and Debbie Stabenow (MI) and U.S. Representatives Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), Fred Upton (MI-06) and Lisa McClain (MI-10) reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to hold universities that receive federal funding accountable for sexual abuse cases that threaten the safety of their students. The Accountability of Leaders in Education to Report Title IX Investigations (ALERT) Act, which the members reintroduced with U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (IL-10), would require university leaders to certify they have reviewed any reports of sexual abuses perpetrated by university employees.
“The excuse of ‘I didn’t know’ can never be used again by university leadership — they have a solemn responsibility to protect students,” said Senator Peters. “The ALERT Act would implement the measures necessary to hold college and university officials accountable. Survivors, their loved ones and our higher learning communities deserve better. I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to enact this critical legislation.”
“As the Representative for Michigan State University, I feel a unique obligation to stand up for the students on campus who have shown incredible bravery and strength in coming forward and sharing their experiences,” said Representative Slotkin. “From my time at the Pentagon, I know that culture is set from the top, and on a college campus, the senior administrators need to be fully informed about allegations of sexual harassment and assault by any and all university employees. We can’t let ignorance be an excuse, and that’s where the ALERT Act comes in. This bill requires that the university president and one board of trustees member are made aware of and review all sexual assault complaints made against university employees. It’s an important step in ensuring our students’ safety and improving the level of accountability on our college campuses. We need to have university leaders who act to protect the health and wellbeing of their students, and this bill will help guarantee that no university president can claim ignorance of a potential sexual predator in their employment.”
“When I met with survivors, they were very clearly focused on the future and making sure other young women never have to experience what they have gone through,” said Senator Stabenow. “This bill is just one step we can take to make sure all universities take sexual abuse more seriously and that their leadership is held publicly accountable.”
“We should be doing everything we can to protect student safety on college campuses. Our students deserve nothing less,” said Representative Upton. “The bipartisan ALERT Act is an important step forward, ensuring university leaders are informed of incidents of sexual violence on their campus. Those reports can then be addressed quickly and in the correct manner.”
“When we send our kids to college, we do so with the expectation 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 a position of power at a university. Many colleges and universities do a great job at this, but we need to ensure those that fall short are held accountable,” said Representative McClain. “What happened at Michigan State University was a tragedy and should never happen again, and I’m hopeful this legislation will bolster an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure it never does.”
“When students come forward with allegations of abuse involving school officials, university leadership must acknowledge and review this information,” said Senator Cornyn. “This legislation would help ensure reports of abuse are not swept under the rug and keep universities accountable for the safety of their students.”
“Senior administrators and board members have a responsibility to ensure our college campuses are safe environments for learning and personal growth by working diligently to protect these communities from harassment and sexual predators,” said Representative Schneider. “Recent events have exposed severe shortcomings in the processes universities use to handle incidents of sexual violence, including examples where university officials failed to act or claimed to be unaware of investigations into abuse. This bipartisan bill ensures leadership is informed of incidents of employee sexual misconduct and held publicly accountable for their response.”
The bipartisan ALERT Act is supported by the American Association of University Women and the National Women’s Law Center.
Under Title IX, colleges and universities that receive federal funds are required to establish clear procedures for promptly responding to instances of sexual violence on campuses. They must also have a Title IX coordinator in place to oversee investigations, coordinate disciplinary actions, and ensure compliance with federal guidance. However, after university leaders have continually failed to take action on or even claim they were unaware of reports of sexual abuse by university employees, such as in the cases of Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and Jerry Sandusky at Pennsylvania State University, official Title IX or external investigations as currently constructed have not proven to be sufficient motivators for high-ranking university officials to report the truth.
The ALERT Act would require federally funded colleges and universities to submit an annual certification to the Secretary of Education affirming that the school’s President, or equivalent officer, and at least one other member of the Board of Trustees have reviewed all sexual abuse investigations involving an employee reported to the Title IX coordinator that year. The annual certification would also require confirmation that neither the President, or equivalent officer, or board member had interfered with or inappropriately influenced an ongoing investigation.