Rachel Croson’s involvement in employee conduct case at MSU prompts discussion

Croson is the dean of a college at Michigan State University currently handling a sexual misconduct investigation, prompting University discussion about her role in it. Rachel Croson and President Joan Gabel both defend Croson’s track record.

The Board of Regents meet about the East Gateway Project Resolution, on Friday, Feb. 14. The Board of Regents holds a meeting each month.

Emily Urfer

The Board of Regents meet about the East Gateway Project Resolution, on Friday, Feb. 14. The Board of Regents holds a meeting each month.

Katrina Pross

At least three people involved in the hiring process for incoming University of Minnesota Provost Rachel Croson have expressed concern about her involvement with an ongoing employee conduct investigation at Michigan State University. Croson, who will begin her role as a top administrator March 30, said there is no cause for concern in response, as did University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel.

“I was surprised and saddened to find that individuals are challenging my commitment to protecting students and supporting survivors of sexual assault and harassment,” Croson said in an email to Gabel, which was later forwarded to the Board of Regents.

The regents will hold a retreat in Duluth from March 11-13. Some regents have indicated that the issue will be further discussed at the meeting.

The case at Michigan State

In a 2019 report by Michigan State, professor John Norder of the Department of Anthropology within the College of Social Science was found to have more than 1,000 sexually explicit images and videos on his work computer, some of which included himself, which the report cites as misconduct.

Norder is still teaching in the Department of Anthropology. It is unclear whether or not any disciplinary action, such as suspension, was taken against him following the findings of the initial report.

A Title IX case was filed in August 2018, alleging Norder sexually harassed a colleague, according to the Detroit News. The case has not yet been resolved, said Elizabeth Abdnour, a lawyer representing the alleged victim in the case.

In an emailed statement to the Minnesota Daily, Croson said that she cannot comment on personnel matters but is following Michigan State’s policy concerning faculty discipline and approval. 

As dean of the College of Social Science, Croson works with other administrators in deciding employee discipline.

According to Michigan State’s policy regarding discipline of tenured faculty, faculty members may be “relieved of duties” or suspended during a review process into their conduct. In order to do so, the dean and the Office of the Associate Provost must agree that a faculty member’s continued “performance of faculty duties” poses a significant risk to people or property.

Croson also said after she receives findings about employee conduct from the Title IX office, she meets with a number of stakeholders to make a decision about discipline — including the individual’s supervisor, the associate provost, the associate vice president for academic human resources, and the Office of the General Counsel.

“Together we discuss and decide upon the appropriate (and legally compliant) consequences for the violation,” she said in the email.

Decisions by deans, such as herself, can be overruled by a number of people, Croson said. That includes the provost, or eventually the president, the Board of Trustees, a faculty grievance officer or other faculty review panels.

Citing confusion about Croson’s involvement, UMN leaders suggest further investigation 

Regent Michael Hsu received a message mid-February from a Michigan State community member who expressed concern about Croson’s involvement with Norder’s discipline process. 

Hsu said he forwarded that message to the University of Minnesota’s Office of the General Counsel. 

Croson responded to concerns Tuesday by sending a message to Gabel, who forwarded it to the Board of Regents. 

Hsu acknowledges that Croson’s decision regarding Norder’s continued employment is unknown but said he thinks the University of Minnesota has not taken enough action to further investigate the matter. He said he would like to see a “third-party investigation” take place.

“Let’s just go to the right steps, try and determine what happened or didn’t happen. And I think it’s reasonable to have the provost answer questions about this. … I think we need to look further,” Hsu said.

Regent Randy Simonson said he does not fully understand the situation and Croson’s involvement in it, but it is something the University should be concerned about.

“Obviously, it’s an issue we need to be very … concerned about at our University. … I do think we need to be very clear on it as a board,” he said. 

In her statement to Gabel, which was sent to regents, Croson defended her track record in handling cases of sexual misconduct. She said she always followed university procedure and is engaged in reforming Michigan State’s policies to support survivors.

“In my time as Dean here at MSU, I have always protected those vulnerable to harm, and followed University policies and procedures in implementing appropriate consequences for policy violations,” she said in the email. 

During the selection process for the provost position at Minnesota, Croson emphasized that preventing sexual misconduct is a priority for her, having stepped up as a leader when former Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon resigned during the high-profile Larry Nassar abuse case. 

Provost search committee member James Farnsworth sent an email last week to several regents and Gabel, expressing concern about the situation. He chose to act in part due to his membership of the committee that selected Croson, he said.

“I believe it’s important to ask questions and to seek clarification … whether it’s hiring one of the most important positions at the University, which is the provost, or doing a number of other things, I think it’s our job to ask questions and to be responsive to people who are bringing things forward,” he said in an interview with the Minnesota Daily. 

Gabel responded to Farnsworth on March 7, saying she is confident in her selection of Croson as provost.

“What remains central to the University of Minnesota is the judgment that Dean Croson will bring sensitivity and good judgment to matters involving allegations of sexual misconduct. I know we share a deep commitment to the prevention of sexual misconduct. In the spirit of that commitment, I stand behind the decision to welcome Rachel Croson as the next Provost of the University of Minnesota,” she said in the email.