Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Michigan State Investigated Nassar in 2014

The Atlantic recently reported in more detail about Michigan State's 2014 investigation of Larry Nassar, who was recently sentenced to up 175 years in prison for molesting athletes he worked with in his capacity as doctor for the U.S. gymnastics team, and who also worked for Michigan State's athletic department.  In 2014, Michigan State received a complaint from an athlete. After investigating the complaint, university employees found no evidence of misconduct and cleared Nassar to return to work. As the Atlantic describes it:
The Title IX complaint—in which the former MSU student Amanda Thomashow described Nassar massaging her breasts and vaginal area during medical examinations—was handled by Kristine Moore, the school’s Title IX coordinator and a full-time MSU employee. Moore, now MSU’s Assistant General Counsel, responsible for protecting the school from legal liability, concluded that Nassar’s behavior was “medically appropriate,” a judgment she reached based on interviews with three medical specialists and an athletic trainer. All four had personal ties to Nassar, and all four were employed by Michigan State.
The article also describes how Moore, the Title IX Coordinator, gave Thomashow a sanitized version of her final report, that omitted findings about the "unnecessary trauma" on his patients. That version was not publically released until recently, raising questions about why it was kept private and the effect of its suppression on Nassar's continued behavior. The article also questions why Michigan State chose to investigate the complaint internally, rather than outsource it to a private firm. Title IX officials are required to avoid conflicts of interests when handling Title IX complaints, and outsourcing investigations is a way to ensure that bias and familiarity with the parties does not influence the investigators' and decisionmakers' actions. External investigations are also used when the scope of an investigation is beyond the capacity of a university's staff, or (as I pointed out to the reporter) when the university needs to assure the public that the outcome of the investigation is unbiased. 

Here, there was obviously a pattern of abuse for investigators to discover. At that point, according to another expert quoted in the story, they should have realized that the scope of the investigation and its impact on the university warranted outside help. When I spoke to the reporter about this story, I had to consider the possibility that the failure to make that decision was a good-faith mistake. But I also acknowledged that the way the investigation was handled raises the possibility that university officials acted with intent to protect a renowned and powerful physician on its staff. As Michigan State is now under investigation by the state attorney general, it is possible more evidence will come to light, whether Michigan State's motives were benign or nefarious.