UM System hires risk management firm to address sexual assault policies

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 5:48 p.m. CDT; updated 12:08 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 27, 2014

COLUMBIA — The University of Missouri System has hired a higher education risk management consulting firm to look at how each campus handles sexual assault and mental health issues.

UM System President Tim Wolfe announced Wednesday that the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management Group, based in Pennsylvania, will assess the "inventory" the UM System task force completed as part of Phase I. For MU, that inventory was a list of campus resources for students with mental health problems or who have been the victim of a sex offense.

The task force was established in February after the Dowd Bennett law firm was hired to conduct an independent investigation into whether MU acted consistently with the law and university policy in reporting the sexual assault of Sasha Menu Courey. Menu Courey, a former MU swimmer, took her own life in 2011 after leaving the university and a year after she was allegedly raped by at least one football player.

On Friday, Dowd Bennett released a report concluding that MU's actions in the Menu Courey case did not violate the law, but were not in compliance with Title IX reporting guidelines.

As part of Phase II, the Pennsylvania firm will provide an independent analysis of each campus' sexual assault and mental health resources, UM System spokesman John Fougere said via email. That analysis will be used to make the task force's final recommendations in the first week of May — Phase III of the process.

The UM System will pay the firm $40,000 from the system's budget, Fougere said via email. He added that Wolfe would supplement the cost with funding from the UM System, if necessary.

In a UM System release, Brett A. Sokolow, president and CEO of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management Group, said: "Every college and university in the country is facing challenges with prevention and response to campus sexual violence."

He said in a phone interview Wednesday that the firm had already started working for the UM System.

According to its website, the firm provides colleges and universities with risk assessment services to improve campus safety and reduce insurance claims and casualty losses. Other services include:

  • Equipping campuses with violence and harm prevention mechanisms;
  • Fostering a culture of risk management;
  • Reducing lawsuit risks and enhancing the chances of winning lawsuits;
  • Reducing negative publicity of failed risk management efforts.

The risk management group represents 350 universities and colleges, including institutions such as Tulane University and Texas Tech University.

Last week, Wolfe issued Executive Order 40, which made MU employees responsible for reporting Title IX incidents such as sexual assault. Before, there was no reporting requirement or mandatory training for MU faculty or staff for handling such incidents, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., launched a national survey on Tuesday to evaluate how colleges and universities handle rape and other kinds of sexual assault. She expected 350 universities and colleges to complete the survey, which covers Title IX, the mechanisms for students to report sexual assaults, and how universities investigate reports.

"This survey will give us an unprecedented look into exactly how our colleges and universities act – or sometimes, fail to act – to protect students, and bring perpetrators to justice," McCaskill said in a news release.

McCaskill said approximately 19 percent of undergraduate women have been the victims of sexual assault and less than 5 percent of them report their attack.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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