Thorough review of pornography case leads to new safety structure
An exhaustive, three-pronged review of how the university handled the discovery of child pornography at the U-M Health System has concluded with the recommendation of a single, unified Division of Public Safety and Security.
The announcement of that new unit — led by an executive director who will report directly to the president — came from Board of Regents Chair Laurence B. Deitch at the start of Friday's board meeting on the UM-Flint campus. Regents unanimously approved the new division.
Deitch said that when regents ordered an external review earlier this year, "We made our intention clear: To insure that the unacceptable situation presented by this case is never repeated at the University of Michigan."
A memo from the board addressed to the university community said, "The remedial changes we are ordering today are significant and will require considerable further resources and diligence. That is by design. The safety and security of our university family is sacrosanct. We must be and we will always be fiercely vigilant when it comes to campus safety and security. We commit to the full and speedy implementation of these remedial mandates and will actively assess progress moving forward."
The board announced that Joe Piersante has agreed to serve as the interim executive director of the new division. He has been interim executive director of the Department of Public Safety.
A search committee was appointed to conduct a nationwide search for the executive director, noting the need for someone with law enforcement experience in addition to management expertise. The search will begin immediately.
During the search, Piersante will oversee a division that will include DPS, UMHS Security, Housing Security and other safety-related units. The creation of the new unit is one of several forward-looking actions outlined in the memo.
In addition, the board memo said the university would develop a new Standard Practice Guide on safety and security to further unify all security units functionally. And, U-M will continue to move forward with improvements outlined by a Safety and Security Steering Committee charged with implementing changes outlined in the University Audits review of the incident last year.
President Mary Sue Coleman lauded the work of the many people — including university leaders and staff — and the consultants who investigated the issue and provided insights into the university's policies, procedures and culture.
"The hard work that has occurred since this issue first came to light — as well as our new management structure for campus safety and security — will go a long way toward ensuring we continue to have a safe and security community," she said.
"We've followed a challenging road to reach this point, but I see a clear path forward. I am confident we will continue to see significant improvements, in part because of our shared vision for the future of safety and security on our campus."
The announcement of the steps that lie ahead came after what the memo described as the board's thorough review of all the findings and recommendations. The internal and external reviews were initiated after it was revealed in December 2011 that there had been a six-month delay in properly reporting to police the discovery of what appeared to be images of child pornography on a thumb drive left in a computer at the U-M Health System.
Former pediatric resident Dr. Stephen Jenson was charged with possession of child pornography and dismissed from U-M last December. He recently pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography in U.S. District Court in Detroit. The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation and has not yet accepted the plea.
The law firm of Latham & Watkins was hired to conduct an independent investigation of the situation. The university hired the consulting firm of Margolis Healy & Associates to analyze the university's safety and security culture and organizational structure. Additionally, the campus Safety and Security Steering Committee has been tasked with implementing the many recommendations outlined in the original University Audits review.
"This report summarizes our findings regarding the matter and sets forth remedial measures we determined to implement," the memo reads.
In addition to the memo from the Board of Regents, the university also released the Margolis Healy report and the report of the Safety and Security Steering Committee. All of those materials can be found on the U-M website.
Among the findings outlined by the memo are these:
• There was a clear failure among university personnel to timely and effectively communicate regarding the reported possession of child pornography. "Where there is a concern of possible possession of child pornography or an incident of similar gravity, it is incumbent upon all personnel who become aware of that concern to promptly notify law enforcement. There can be no exceptions to that rule," the memo said.
• The UMHS legal office inappropriately investigated the reported child pornography and concluded there was insufficient evidence without involving law enforcement. "That assessment was wrong and unacceptable."
• The relationship and communication between UMHS security and DPS is broken and must be repaired to guarantee "timely and effective communication of potential serious misconduct, as well as the safety and security of all of our university constituencies, while still respecting the ethos and privacy and other legal concerns unique to university and health care environments."
The memo notes there has been progress made in recent months by the university's Safety and Security Steering Committee, including changes and improvements in 9-1-1 procedures at the Health System.
The board also expressed the board's gratitude to the U-M physician who brought forward her concerns about the images she discovered.
"We commend that physician for following through and making sure this information came to light in a manner that ultimately resulted in the arrest and successful prosecution of the former medical resident. The university community needs and relies upon people who are willing to step up and do the right thing by timely notifying their supervisors and law enforcement when misconduct occurs."
The board also thanked the investigating and prosecuting authorities at the U-M, in Washtenaw County and at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit for their diligence and response.