Proposed Bill Would Hold University Leaders Accountable for Sex Abuse Investigations
A bipartisan bill that would hold universities receiving federal funding accountable for sex abuse cases involving employees was reintroduced in Congress on May 3.
Known as the Accountability of Leaders in Education to Report Title IX Investigations (ALERT) Act, the legislation would require university leaders to certify an annual acknowledgment that the school’s president and at least one member of its governing board have reviewed all sexual abuse investigations involving employees that were reported to the Title IX coordinator.
Additionally, the certification would compel university leaders to confirm that the president and board members were did not interfere or exercise an inappropriate influence on any ongoing investigations.
The bill was initially introduced in 2018 as a response to how Michigan State University handled accusations involving Larry Nassar, a sports doctor who was convicted of several sex-related offenses, including sexual assault. In that case, MSU officials insisted that weren’t aware of Nassar’s behavior despite hundreds of women coming forward with allegations against him. Eventually, reports showed that as many as 14 MSU officials were aware of his conduct for at least 20 years before Nassar’s arrest.
The apparent goal of the ALERT Act is to eliminate the plausible deniability university officials – such as those at MSU – could claim when they become aware that an employee is alleged of sexual abuse. In other words, the legislation would compel officials to confront all reports of sexual abuse head-on instead of being able to turn a blind eye to them.
"The excuse of ‘I didn’t know' can never be used again by university leadership — they have a solemn responsibility to protect students,” said Michigan Senator Gary Peters (D), speaking to The Detroit News. “Survivors, their loved ones, and our higher learning communities deserve better.”
Peters is among the bipartisan group of legislators who are supporting the ALERT Act. That group also includes Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan, Senator John Cornyn (R) Texas, and U.S. representatives Elissa Slotkin (D-New York), Fred Upton (R-Michigan), Lisa McClain (R-Michigan), and Brad Schneider (D-Illinois).
The bill is also supported by the American Association of University Women and the National Women’s Law Center.