Bipartisan bill would create investigative office within executive branch
State Rep. John Reilly of Oakland today introduced a measure creating an Office of Higher Education Ombudsman within the governor’s office.
The office would have the power to review documents from state universities relevant to an investigation into complaints of civil liberties violations, sexual assault or other unlawful activities. It would also conduct a campus climate survey allowing students, faculty and staff to anonymously voice their concerns.
Reilly said revelations of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar sexually assaulting hundreds of young women and the university’s failure to act on numerous past complaints prove more oversight is needed.
“It is our first duty as the people’s representatives to protect them from crime and ensure all aspects of state government act in their best interests,” Reilly said. “It is unacceptable that we have such limited oversight over our universities. The people are worried and wondering how many more skeletons might be found in the closets of our campuses.”
The Higher Education Ombudsman could initiate an investigation at the request of a student, professor, lawmaker or on its own initiative if there are signs pointing to necessary action. The ombudsman would then report his or her findings to the Legislature.
While the Michigan Constitution grants its state universities autonomy in making policy, Reilly pointed to a court ruling that suggested they are not immune from disclosure requirements.
“The courts have held that the Legislature may require the universities to send reports to the governor, and this was the only time the requirement they furnish information was tested,” Reilly said. “These schools aren’t the FBI, and their records are not classified.”
Several bipartisan representatives joined Reilly’s efforts by cosponsoring the bill. House Bill 5603 was referred to the Committee on Education.