Feds will investigate U of M for how it handled a rape allegation against a football player

Feb 25, 2014

Federal education officials are investigating the University of Michigan’s response to an alleged sexual assault involving a U of M football player in 2009.

Brendan Gibbons was expelled from U of M in 2013 for allegedly violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy. Gibbons was arrested, but never charged in the alleged 2009 rape. He was the starting kicker for the Wolverines until December 2013.

U of M's student-run newspaper, the Michigan Daily, first uncovered the expulsion last month.

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights is now investigating to see if university officials in Ann Arbor failed to properly respond to the allegation against Gibbons, creating “a sexually hostile environment” for students, according to the letter sent to the university.

The Office of Civil Rights received two complaints over the matter, one from Doug Smith, a former U of M employee. Smith has been writing about the matter on his website, Washtenaw Watchdogs. In 2011, Smith confronted President Mary Sue Coleman at a Board of Regents meeting.

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At the end of each meeting there is a period for public comment, and that is when Smith, a pathologist who worked at the school from 2006-09, stepped to a podium set up at the end of the table opposite Coleman and read a prepared statement.

"You don't need to travel to Penn State to find a university administration who has failed to protect the alleged victims of sexual assaults," Smith began. He went on to describe how in 2009 then-freshman kicker Brendan Gibbons allegedly raped another freshman student-athlete at a fraternity party.

Students protesting inside the Fleming Building on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Feb. 25, 2014.
Students protesting inside the Fleming Building on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Feb. 25, 2014.
Credit Paige Pfleger / Michigan Radio

Some students at U of M protested today, in part, over the University's handling of the case. The group called U of M's investigation a four-year "cover up." They marched to the Fleming Administration building on U of M's campus today.

The Michigan Daily reported on a recent "fireside chat" that U of M President Mary Sue Coleman held with students. During that meeting, Coleman defended the university's actions:

“I am very comfortable with the process and what happened,” Coleman said. “We have pretty well-defined procedures that we use.”

U of M issued a written statement on the matter defending the university’s sexual misconduct policy. The statement goes on to say the university expects the investigation will show U of M is doing “what it should in this important area.”

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights gave the university until March 8 to provide  a list of documents related to its case.