WHAT OTHERS SAY: MU still dragging its feet on sex-assault policy

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 | 4:06 p.m. CDT

More than two months after UM System President Tim Wolfe gave an impassioned response to the rape allegations that rocked the flagship campus, the university still lacks an employee policy for reporting suspected sexual violence.

Along with not having a reporting requirement, the UM System offers no training to faculty or staff on how to handle possible violations of Title IX, the federal education anti-discrimination law that covers (in addition to women’s sports) sexual harassment or violence. The story was reported last week in the Columbia Missourian by Caroline Bauman.

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights recommended in April 2011 that universities adopt a reporting requirement. Even for a university bureaucracy, three years ought to be enough time to comply.

An ESPN investigation into the alleged sexual assault of former MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey drew attention to the system’s lack of a formal policy for reporting Title IX violations.

ESPN’s investigation said that Ms. Menu Courey killed herself 16 months after she told campus personnel — including a rape crisis counselor, a campus therapist, a campus nurse and two doctors — that she had been raped off campus by as many as three football players.

The sports network said MU disputed that Ms. Menu Courey also told an athletics department administrator, though she had written in her journal that she had done so.

MU said at the time that it did not pursue criminal charges upon learning of Ms. Menu Courey’s rape allegations in late 2012.

“There needs to be clear guidelines for what we as faculty do when this happens,” Joan Hermsen, chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at MU, told the Missourian last week.

Noel English, the campus Title IX coordinator, said the Columbia campus is finalizing a policy that mandates certain faculty and staff, known as “required reporters,” to inform the university of student complaints alleging sexual violence, harassment or other discrimination prohibited by the federal law.

Ms. English said university leaders are “doing our best to come up with a policy that fulfills the institution’s obligations under Title IX while not deterring individuals from seeking assistance from those they trust.”

She added that the university was “concerned about the possibility that students will feel less inclined to seek help because of the reporting requirement.”

Many universities have navigated that narrow line to come up with reporting policies that reassure students about both their safety and their privacy. It is shameful that the state university system’s crown jewel is still wringing its hands about the matter, three years after being told by the federal government to do something and four years after a young woman alleged she was attacked and then committed suicide.

Mr. Wolfe came to the university system from the business world where presumably this sort of foot-dragging would not occur. He needs to put his business background into play and stop the bureaucratic buck-passing. Missouri students and their families need to be reassured that the culture of the universities does not allow discrimination to be hung up while policy is nitpicked.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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