Possible Pitfalls in Michigan State’s Certification of Title IX 

Sophie Shapiro

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024

On Friday, September 30th, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees released an audit conducted earlier this month on the Title IX certification process. This audit was conducted after concerns arose regarding failure of compliance with the state-mandated Title IX certification process last year. Michigan State University President, Samuel Stanley, is at the forefront of the investigations. 

What is Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, most commonly referred to by its shorthand Title IX, was enacted 50 years ago and is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in any education program or activity that receives federal financial assistance. Title IX was signed by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972 and was meant to provide women with equal opportunities in the world of sports. Now, Title IX protects students from discrimination on the basis of sex, sexuality, and gender identity, in the context of student athletes but also in secondary and post-secondary education generally.   

The certification process

As a part of the expanding requirements now required under Title IX, each year the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) requires every university across the United States to have their president and at least one member of the university’s governing board review every Title IX report that involves alleged sexual misconduct involving a university employee. There are several requirements that must be met, and it is up to the university’s president to certify such requirements are being complied with. In the event that requirements are not met, schools face a risk in state funding being cut by 10%

This certification process is essential to not only protect individuals who risk facing sexual violence, but also to prevent future sexual assault cases from continuing to occur.  

Michigan State University’s weaknesses in Title IX process 

Marilyn Tarrant, MSU Chief Audit, Risk and Compliance Officer, was the individual who conducted the audit. A copy of her audit was released by MSU Trustees members, highlighting a dozen “process weaknesses.” In the 2022 state certification, it was reported that more than 13 sexual assault cases may not even been reviewed, and further, the certification forms were also not even completed.

President Stanley commented on this released information, stating: “I faithfully complied with the Michigan certification process the last two years and reviewed all the title reports that were required.” He went on to allege that it was, in fact, unnamed trustees who, “may not have actually complied with their responsibilities under the state requirement.

Michigan State University’s history with sexual assault cases

Michigan State University’s potential failure of complying with Title IX certification requirements has brought up previous conversation of past sexual assault cases with Larry Nassar, former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor. 

Many of Nassar’s victims from Michigan State University have demanded that there be outside investigation regarding lack of compliance with Title IX requirements, and furthermore, digging into how MSU is addressing sexual misconduct cases. 

Specifically, more than 30 survivors (and their parents) wrote a letter to both Michigan legislatures and the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, pushing for an investigation specifically looking into “whether MSU’s president has made sexual violence in the campus community a top concern.”

Samuel Stanley faces the potential of being the third straight school leader to be forced out at Michigan State University, all due to issues arising from sexual misconduct cases. 

What does this mean for Michigan State University?

Michigan State has been the face of sexual misconduct cases for years. The University must take measures into their own hands to help restore others’ trust in them. Above all, there must be a comprehensive investigation into their current Title IX certification process that specifically determines President Stanley’s role in the failures of the process. If shortcomings in the certification process are confirmed, Stanley must be replaced. Michigan State University cannot afford to continue having a president that doesn’t make protection against sexual violence matters on campus a top priority. 

Michigan State University has one of the highest number of sexual misconduct reports in Michigan. There was a way for Larry Nassar to abuse hundreds of Michigan State University athletes, and athletes will continue to be susceptible to such abuse unless actions are taken and until the University prioritizes the safety of its students.