COLUMBIA — The UM System Board of Curators voted Wednesday to hire an outside firm to investigate MU's handling of the Sasha Menu Courey situation, as recommended by System President Tim Wolfe.
“Ms. Courey’s story is very tragic and sad, and our sympathy and prayers are with her family, friends and teammates,” Board of Curators Chair Don Downing said in a statement. “The board wants to take an independent look at what happened here."
Earlier in the day, a horde of journalists brought their video cameras, tape recorders and yellow legal pads from across the state to record the first public words of Wolfe since an ESPN report accusing MU of negligence in response to an alleged sexual assault of a former swimmer.
But it might have been a pause from Wolfe that spoke loudest.
“President Wolfe,” one reporter asked roughly 10 minutes into the press conference, “do you think that the university failed Sasha?”
Wolfe paused. A second passed. Then two. A camera shutter snapped. Three seconds.
“What I feel as a parent,” he said, “is one of our students is dead. And I don’t want to feel that anymore.”
Wolfe's recommendation to have independent legal counsel look into matters was approved by the UM System Board of Curators during a closed-session vote Wednesday night. The board has not yet hired the firm to conduct the study.
"Separately, our chancellors are promptly reviewing their campus policies and procedures concerning the prevention and reporting of sexual assaults and availability of mental health services, and President Wolfe has rightly committed to devoting additional resources to the extent those policies and procedures are found to be lacking,” Downing said.
In his afternoon meeting with the press, Wolfe also gave pause to any questions asked about the specifics of MU’s response to the alleged sexual assault. The system president refused to comment on at least six queries that inched close to the case, saying he "can't comment on the matters pertaining to Sasha because of the criminal investigation that is being led by the Columbia Police Department."
Wolfe began the conference by saying the topic hits home because his daughter, Madison Wolfe, is a freshman collegiate athlete.
Video of the press conference is available here.
Here’s what Wolfe did say:
- The independent counsel gives MU the “best possibility of having a true understanding of the events that surround this situation.” The counsel will have unobstructed access, including issues pertaining to Wolfe himself.
- The issues of whether medical staff should have more liberty to inform authorities about potential assaults or whether the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) needs reformation to better pursue potential assaults will both be on the table. However, Wolfe said the chances of HIPAA reform passing are low.
- Mental health awareness needs a boost both on UM System campuses and across the nation. “We do have a healthy environment, but we’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We will never be where we need to be. This is in the category of a never-ending journey.”
What Wolfe did not say:
- Why athletics director Mike Alden has remained mum thus far. “All I can say is Mike is in full support,” he said. He also said he has had “complete cooperation” from the athletics department.
- Wolfe said he does not agree with accusations of a dangerous culture persisting at MU that allows sexual assaults to occur. “I will not admit that,” he said.
- What the timeline for an independent investigation will be, though, was cleared up a bit in the press release from the Board of Curators. That statement said that when a firm is selected, it will report its findings and conclusions to the board "no later than April 11, 2014," which is the date of the board's next meeting. In the afternoon, Wolfe said it was not possible for him to “project out” but assured that he “can’t think of a higher priority right now for me and the rest of the University of Missouri System.”
Supervising editor is Mark Selig