Congress

Bill making sure university presidents know about alleged sexual abuse introduced

The effort led by members from Michigan following scandal at Michigan State

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., is among the lead sponsors of the new legislation, known as the ALERT Act, which effectively mandates that university presidents cannot claim ignorance in Title IX cases. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

There’s a new push for legislation to effectively mandate that university presidents cannot claim ignorance when allegations of sexual assault are made against their employees.

A bill being introduced in both the House and the Senate would require colleges and universities annually certify that top officials, including at least one trustee, have reviewed all of the sexual assault allegations if they want to keep getting federal funding.

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Most of the sponsors and co-sponsors at a news conference Tuesday were from the state of Michigan, which found itself at the center of the sexual abuse scandal involving Larry Nassar who was convicted of sexually assaulting hundreds of women and girls during his tenure as U.S. gymnastics team doctor at Michigan State University. 

Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton said the co-sponsors intended to work to quickly build more bipartisan support and make way for passage leading to a signature from President Donald Trump, and “maybe even get a pen for something that is long overdue.”

“The more co-sponsors we can get on both sides of the aisle, the better chance we have to go in to our respective leaderships and say let’s get this on the floor,” Upton said.

Key members of Congress are working on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, but Upton and other supporters present Tuesday did not seem inclined to want to wait that long. He suggested there could be an effort to move through the House under suspension of the rules, an expedited process that requires a two-thirds vote but could bypass the Education and Labor Committee.

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Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, the lead sponsor in the Senate, hosted the news conference about the bill introduction. He was among the speakers who cited the Michigan State University case specifically.

“If a university employee, someone who is entrusted with the well-being of student on that campus, has a Title IX case ... involving them, a university president and at least one trustee needs to be aware of it,” Peters said. “We need to learn the truth, so that those who ... enabled and those who protected Dr. Nassar are held accountable, for our children, for our students so that they are never, ever abused again by someone as monstrous as Dr. Nassar.”

Joining in the unveiling were Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn and Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, as well as advocates and the lead House sponsor, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a fellow Democrat from Michigan whose district includes the Michigan State campus.

“It’s about accountability, this piece of legislation,” she said. “The accountability of leaders on our nation’s campuses on the students they are supposed to serve. With this legislation, we would require that senior university leaders are made aware of sexual assault complaints against any university employee.”

Slotkin got to the key reason for the legislation: past examples of university administrators claiming they had no knowledge of the improper and outright criminal behavior that was taking place on their watch.

“In doing so, we will ensure that no university president, chancellor, board of trustees, can ever respond to news of a sexual predator on their campus with a shrug and say I didn’t know, no one told me, and I couldn’t have helped it,” Slotkin said.

Watch: Senate Quickly Passes Sexual Harassment Bill By Unanimous Consent

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