Michigan State: We will say no more on who knew what in Mel Tucker probe
- MSU said Tuesday it will not provide further details for now on its decision leading up to the suspension of Coach Mel Tucker
- MSU Interim President and the Athletic Director have not read a report filed in July on alleged sexual harassment
- The university has faced broad criticism for its silence and for allowing Tucker to coach the first two games of the fall season
Michigan State University has apparently reached the limits of what it intends to say about what top officials knew, and who was making calls concerning the school’s sexual harassment investigation of now-suspended head football coach Mel Tucker.
A confidential, internal review of the harassment allegations burst into public view over the weekend, when USA Today published the account of advocate Brenda Tracy, who is also a rape survivor. She was hired by the university to talk to the football team about sexual misconduct and consent.
In a complaint filed with the university last December, Tracy reportedly said that Tucker masturbated on a phone call with her last year without her consent and repeatedly urged her to meet with him privately. She said the romantic overtures were one-sided, while Tucker said their relationship had grown intimate and his actions had been welcomed by her.
- Mel Tucker calls MSU sexual harassment probe a ‘sham’ excuse to fire him
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- MSU interim president Teresa Woodruff won’t seek full-time job
- Larry Nassar, ex-MSU doctor who abused patients, stabbed in federal prison
Within hours of the USA Today’s story publication, the university announced Tucker would be suspended without pay as the probe heads toward a formal hearing in early October. The rapidly unfolding events caused a firestorm on the MSU campus, with students, fans and outsiders hammering the university for keeping the allegations secret. Many also wondered why Tucker was allowed to coach the team through the first two games of the fall season while the investigation was pending.
MSU officials have so far said little. They acknowledged being informed that a complaint had been filed against Tucker last December, and that an independent investigator had completed a report on the case in late July.
But they said top officials, from the school’s athletic director to its interim president, did not know the details of the allegations nor had not yet read the July report, citing university policy intended to allow the investigation to proceed without interference.
Bridge Michigan submitted a series of questions to the university Monday and Tuesday, including queries on who in administration had read the investigative report and who had made decisions on Tucker’s state as the probe unfolded.
Tuesday afternoon, University spokesperson Dan Olsen confirmed that the interim MSU President Teresa Woodruff and Vice President and Athletic Director Alan Haller have not yet received a copy of the report. Olsen said he was unable to provide answers to other questions because it’s an ongoing investigation.
The university’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct and Title IX Policy states the university will “seek to protect the privacy of parties in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”
But the policy also carries exceptions, including when sharing such information is “necessary to carry out the purposes of this Policy (including providing supportive measures, interim measures, any initial assessment, investigation, hearing, and/or appeal).”
On Monday, Woodruff told the Lansing State Journal she first learned of the complaint against Tucker in late December but did not know Tracy’s identity until late July. She added that she did not know the specific details of the complaint until the USA Today story was published.
Officials said Sunday Tucker was ordered to not communicate with Tracy and received more supervision from Athletic Director Alan Haller.
But it remains unclear who at the university determined those restrictions and who decided Tucker could continue to lead the team through its first two games of the season.
The university also did not answer Bridge questions on whether someone in the investigative office recommended or sought to impose a suspension or some other action against Tucker at any point in the investigation.
Experts in Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, told Bridge it’s not uncommon for top university officials to not know the details of complaints while an investigation is pending.
That confidentiality is designed to protect both the complainant and the accused, and ensure a thorough investigation.
But "from a common sense perspective," it would have been wise to alert someone superior to Tucker, given that he is the university's highest-paid and arguably highest-profile employee, said Cari Simon, a Title IX attorney with the The Fierberg National Law Group. (Tucker is in the fourth year of coaching at MSU and has a 10-year, $95-million contract.)
“Decision making could have been done from there,” Simon said.
Critics have compared the lack of public information from the university to how the university handled years of concerns about then-MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar before he was brought to justice. Nassar sexually abused girls and young women under the guise of medical treatment, and MSU leaders face harsh accusations that they covered up or minimized the allegations for years.
Last week, Nassar survivors renewed their request for the Board of Trustees to release 6,000 documents related to Nassar, which the university has steadfastly refused to do.
Emily Meinke, a Nassar survivor who now lives in Florida, told Bridge Tuesday that she has similar questions about Tucker as she still does for how the university handled allegations against Nassar.
“Who knew what, when?” she asked. “Who’s calling the shots?”
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