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DEAR READER: MU fails with sexual violence policies, reacts slowly with task force

Saturday, April 19, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:19 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 12, 2014

Dear Reader,

Imagine the day-mare for the public relators and donation raisers at MU when they saw the St. Louis Post-Dispatch front page:

“FAILURE AT MIZZOU”

All caps. Bold and big and at the top of the page. Followed by the headline: “School did not follow rules after alleged assault.”

The news this week was dominated by the same topic of last week and last month: sexual violence on campus.

On April 11, MU released the findings of an independent review into the death of Sasha Menu Courey. As you’ll recall, Menu Courey was an MU student on the swim team who said she was raped by three football players. Menu Courey later took her life.

The attorneys from Dowd Bennett, the law firm hired as an independent counsel by the UM Board of Curators, couldn’t find anything criminal in the university’s inaction, but the rest of the report was pretty accurately summarized in those three big words in the Post-Dispatch.

The university didn’t define what employees are supposed to do when students tell them about sexual assaults. The university didn’t act on the information it had about Menu Courey’s allegations.

The university didn’t.

So what have MU and its parent system done?

On Wednesday, UM System boss Tim Wolfe announced the hiring of a risk management firm. According to the Missourian article, “The Pennsylvania firm will provide an independent analysis of each campus’ sexual assault and mental health resources.”

This is part of “phase II” of the task force Wolfe created in the wake of the Menu Courey story that first aired on ESPN. The first phase was stunningly underwhelming. The task force made an inventory of resources and found the phone book: 10 organizations at MU that support sexual assault victims.

I suppose you have to start somewhere.

This second phase sounds more promising. It’s hard to tell. This week I challenged reporters to find more clarity in the language.

Mr. Wolfe and his new MU chancellor have said they want to create a model that other universities will want to copy. Will this risk firm lay out the blueprint? Or, by analyzing the current inventory, is it simply saying, yep, that’s what y’all have there at the U?

Wolfe has proven his eagerness to act. After the first outside report, he put out an executive order saying that just about everyone who draws a paycheck with the university seal is required to report student victims’ descriptions of sexual assaults and harassment.

That’s lightning fast for the U. Something done.

Tom Warhover is the executive editor of the Missourian. Contact him by e-mail at warhovert@missouri.edu or by phone at 882-5734.


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Comments

Ellis Smith April 19, 2014 | 7:13 a.m.

Tom,

Didn't you also notice those screaming newspaper headlines in connection with all those messes/disasters at UMKC, UMSL and MS&T? You DIDN'T? Maybe that's because there weren't any. Do ya think?

Here's the "new math" situation: a campus which for some years now has consistently had (even with increasing enrollment) less than 50% of the System's students seems to create most of the System's severe problems, embarrassments, and bad publicity. We don't LIKE this "new math." At some point both Missouri taxpayers and legislators aren't going to be pleased either. Possibly more than a few of those worthies are already fed up. What do ya think about that?

While George says he doesn't like the idea, former Curator Woody Cozad (an MU graduate, not one of ours) may be on the right track in suggesting things would be better for UMKC, UMSL and MS&T if the System were broken up. MS&T wouldn't even need to change its present name, as we got rid of the words "University of Missouri" in January 2008. THANK YOU, CURATORS!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 19, 2014 | 10:01 a.m.

I've had lots of problems with the Menu Courey story. I've even had lots of problems figuring out what to write in response to Warhover's missive.

I'm the father of daughters. They all attended college, but not MU. Since I take my fatherly protective-duties seriously, I would be incensed if folks at one of those colleges did not report a similar incident experienced by one of my daughters....even any privy health care professionals.

That's the emotional and fatherly side of me.

The intellectual side of me makes a distinction between students, each of which (it seems to me) has a unique set of circumstances in their relationship with MU or any other college. Some live on campus, some don't. Some are older and more independent, some are quite dependent. Some are part-time students and full-time adults, while some are mainly clones of silly high school seniors.

However, all are legal adults. They are "legal adults" because we codified such a status in our societal laws.

Where is the line between the older, more traditional, "in loco parentis" behavior of universities towards students versus the notion that students over 18 are legal adults, empowered to decide ON THEIR OWN and decide what information can be transmitted on their behalf?

In my reading about this horror, I am unable to find one solitary bit of evidence that Menu-Courey wanted ANYONE to act upon behalf. She didn't want anyone to know, and she certainly didn't want it publicly known. Since she was a legal adult, legally able to decide, just how is the university to blame in all this?

We've even set up a trap for ourselves when we make it illegal for healthcare providers to tell a horror story, but then we bemoan and yell that "no one told the story."

In the end, I guess I've decided that Menu-Courey was an adult who was the victim of an assault that occurred off-campus. She lived off-campus. She also happened, as a part of her adult life, to attend a university during parts of the day (like a job) but, for the purposes of this incident, she was an adult making decisions on her own....like most of you reading this post.

I see this as a Columbia Police matter, not a university matter. In a case such as this, "in loco parentis" is not applicable. It may even be dead. I see little, if any, university culpability.

If anyone failed, it was those "friends" who knew about it, but failed to tell the police about it. And our legal and societal system failed, too, because we've created courtroom and public information situations where a victim can be embarrassed by trying to prosecute the criminals. Women won't report, and it's our fault and it's their fault.

OUR past legal decisions created this.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 19, 2014 | 10:09 a.m.

Further, I have a real hard time with Warhover's castigation of the University for it's "failure", failing to see his own reflection...and that of the Missourian...in the mirror.

This from an executive editor of a University- and taxpayer-supported newspaper that is a simple advocacy rag, one which picks and chooses its reporting topics based upon narrow special interests, one which fails this community daily in the choices and tones of reported stories.

It's an ongoing "Failure at MU."

(Report Comment)
Dion Wisniewski April 19, 2014 | 3:08 p.m.

Mr. Williams - I am not a parent so I can't comment on how I may feel if one of my children were sexually assaulted. However, to change laws protecting (or preventing, both work) health care providers from reporting sexual assault could have some dangerous implications. If health care providers were required to report all instances of sexual assault people may just skip going to the hospital all together. Some do not want to make a police report, they just want to get medical treatment and move on.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 19, 2014 | 3:27 p.m.

Dion: I did not say anything about changing laws. I didn't even say I supported or didn't support these healthcare laws.

I did say it was a trap for ourselves, one of our own creation. We do not allow healthcare providers to divulge health information, including sexual assaults, for some good reasons.

But, because we do not allow it, it is improper to later bemoan the lack of information....such as occurred in this case.

If I understand it correctly, health care providers were the ONLY professionals who knew the details of this assault. And they couldn't tell.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 19, 2014 | 6:42 p.m.

Seems to me there's a difference between individual events and the climate in which they're taking place. Unless some attempt is made to change that climate, all those committees and outside consultants won't solve the core problems. Sometimes it's very difficult to see or appreciate things for what they truly are.

Happy Easter, everyone. I trust that in wishing you one I've not seriously violated any rules of political correctness.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 20, 2014 | 10:39 a.m.

"...He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!..."

Well that (above) blows a big hole in political correctness, doesn't it?

But what would we expect of some rednecked, weapons-owning, Bible-reading troglodyte? I warn you, Martha, they're ALL very dangerous! Again, Happy Easter.

(Report Comment)

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