- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - The University of Michigan has repeatedly requested delays in turning over thousands of documents sought by federal investigators looking into sexual assault complaints on campus, emails obtained by the Detroit Free Press show.

The documents obtained by the Free Press (https://on.freep.com/1r7ZHEw through a Freedom of Information Act request also indicated the university has sought to limit the scope of the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Education by asking investigators to review fewer incidents than requested, emails show.

The investigation started on Feb. 21, 2014, after the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights received a complaint alleging the university mishandled a sexual assault case. Two more complaints were received in October 2014 and the following month.

While the investigation initially focused on those three cases, investigators have said they want to look at documents related to about 180 cases, a standard practice for such cases. The emails show the university sought at least a dozen extensions to provide those documents.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the university is fully cooperating with the investigation “and is interested in resolving the matter as quickly as possible.

“It is routine for this process to involve detailed back and forth discussion and information sharing,” he said.

The average investigation completed by 2014 took more than four years, the Office for Civil Rights said earlier this year. An analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education said the average case takes 1.3 years.

The federal Department of Education declined comment on the emails or the process, but emails suggest they are tired of the delays.

“We need all the data we requested,” they wrote in a Feb. 24 email to the university. “We cannot agree to narrow it any further. . We had hoped that the university would be actively accumulating this data since our (request).”

The OCR attorney’s email came five hours after an attorney representing the university emailed to ask again to turn over fewer documents than the OCR wanted.

Sofie Karasek, co-founder of End Rape on Campus, a group that supports survivors, works on policy reviews and has advised students on filing OCR complaints, isn’t surprised by the delays.

“There’s little incentive for a university to get to a speedy resolution,” she said.

Kent Talbert, the former general counsel for the federal Department of Education and now an attorney who represents universities dealing with investigations, said it’s not unusual for universities to seek delays.

.”Certainly I’ve done that in cases I’m working on,” he said. “To some degree, it becomes a question of reasonableness in whether a delay should be granted and for how long. That’s a subjective answer.”

The scrutiny of Michigan follows criticism of how universities across the country handle sexual assault complaints. In the most recent case, Baylor president Ken Starr, football coach Art Briles and Athletic Director Ian McCaw all have left their positions following a report commissioned by the Baptist university found that school administrators discouraged students from reporting sexual assault allegations and fostered a culture that the football program was above the rules.


Information from: Detroit Free Press, https://www.freep.com

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