How Michigan State's Botched Title IX Investigation Enabled USA Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar
By Virginia Chamlee
Even in the months before Larry Nassar pleaded guilty to molesting girls, critics were calling for an investigation into how USA Gymnastics allegedly mishandled the investigation into the former Team USA gymnastics doctor. But it's becoming increasingly clear that Nassar's other employer, Michigan State University, botched its Title IX investigation — which critics say ultimately enabled the abuse.
Title IX investigations into sexual assault allegations are often controversial. According to Alan Sash, a New York lawyer specializing in Title IX, that's because most schools simply aren't capable of investigating or adjudicating such cases. "No matter what kind of training they get, investigators are not trained law enforcement professionals," Sash says. "Some are biased and some have an agenda."
Sash says that Title IX investigators typically are attorneys, and many work only part-time as investigators while holding other jobs at the university itself. "If the goal is to find out the truth, why have any potential conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest?" he asks. In its 2014 Title IX investigation of Nassar, MSU relied on three medical experts, one of whom was a close friend of Nassar's, according to Inside Higher Ed.
As investigators aren't trained in collecting evidence the way a police officer would be, Title IX investigations are often flawed — ultimately leading to flawed outcomes.
Although Nassar's crimes only came to light in recent years, the allegations against him go back at least two decades. In 2014, both the Michigan State Police Department and Michigan State University's Title IX office investigated Nassar after a student athlete claimed he had behaved inappropriately. The school ultimately cleared him of any wrongdoing, concluding the doctor's accusers didn't understand the "nuanced difference" between the medical procedure he purportedly conducted and sexual assault.