UM System adds employee obligations for reporting sexual assault

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 | 8:12 p.m. CDT; updated 6:38 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 9, 2014

COLUMBIA — University of Missouri System employees not legally bound by confidentiality will now be obligated to report sexual harassment and assault against students.

The Title IX reporting requirement announced late Tuesday afternoon was made through an executive order from UM System President Tim Wolfe.

Before Executive Order 40, there was no reporting requirement or mandatory training for MU faculty or staff for handling Title IX incidents, such as sexual harassment or violence, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The order makes clear that all UM System employees — excluding health care providers, counselors, lawyers and their staffs — are obligated to report information about sexual harassment or assault of a student to the appropriate Title IX coordinator. At MU, that is Noel English, director of the MU Equity Office and Title IX coordinator.

Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 prohibits discrimination on college campuses based on a person's sex.

Before Wolfe's order, if a student made a complaint that fell under Title IX, MU faculty and staff were encouraged to report the incident through an online form or to contact English.

But the guidelines determining which faculty and staff members were "responsible employees" were not defined by the university.

According to the 2001 Sexual Harassment Guidance by the Office for Civil Rights, "responsible employees" obligated to report are defined as any employee who:

  • Has the authority to redress sexual violence
  • Has been given the duty of reporting incidents of sexual violence or other misconduct to the Title IX coordinator or school officials.
  • A student could reasonably believe has this authority..

This definition allowed universities to have different interpretations of who their required reporters were. At one university, "responsible employees" could be seen as all employees, while another university might interpret the definition to mean only certain employees.

In an April 2011 letter, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights recommended that universities adopt a reporting requirement. Three years later, an ESPN investigation into the alleged sexual assault of former MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey highlighted the lack of a reporting requirement at MU.

According to the story, she was allegedly assaulted by three football players and told several university employees about the assault. She committed suicide in June 2011 after leaving MU.

A task force created by Wolfe after the ESPN report was released is still reviewing policies and procedures for the reporting of sexual assaults and the accessibility of mental health resources at the four UM campuses, system spokesman John Fougere said in March.

Last week, the MU task force, led by Deputy Chancellor Mike Middleton, released a list of the school's sexual assault and mental health services.

"As we did the inventory of services on four campuses, this was an area that came up as one that could be strengthened," Fougere said.

But Wolfe said he did not want to wait for the task force to clarify the university's policy.

"It is imperative that employees know what their obligation is now, because the safety and security of the students on our four campuses is our absolute priority," Wolfe said in a news release.

Fougere said discussion of the executive order does not appear on the agenda for a meeting this week of the UM System Board of Curators. The Dowd Bennett Law Firm, which was investigating whether university employees acted consistently with university policy and legal statutes in the Menu Courey case, will present its findings during an executive session Friday.

The task force will have the opportunity to assess the executive order if it thinks there is need for it to be revised, Fougere said.

Missourian reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this article.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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