CORRECTION: *A quote from John Fougere has been corrected to reflect that he was referring to the University of Missouri System.
COLUMBIA — The UM System Board of Curators was expected to vote Thursday on rule changes in the Collected Rules and Regulations regarding Title IX and sexual assault.
At the Columbia Missourian, our ongoing coverage of the problem of sexual assault aims to educate readers and encourage productive dialogue. Read our discussion guide here.
A task force assembled to evaluate sexual assault policies in the UM system suggested adding to the definition of "nonconsensual," changing how hearings are conducted and altering the makeup of the committee that reviews sexual assault cases, among other changes. It also specifies that a Title IX preliminary investigation not wait for criminal proceedings to start.
The task force suggested that the term "nonconsensual," as defined in the Collected Rules and Regulations, be made clearer. The suggested definition would include references to any incident involving alcohol, drugs or any other circumstance where the victim was incapacitated and incapable of consenting.
How witnesses are questioned during conduct hearings would also change so neither the complainant nor the accused person can question each other directly in cases of sexual misconduct. All questions will be directed to and asked through the chair of the committee conducting the hearing.
In addition, Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs, will be in charge of appointing members to the Student Conduct Committee. This panel will have the authority to impose any sanctions upon any accused student. The chair of the committee will be able to divide the conduct committee into smaller hearing panels that will address cases. The panels will consist of at least five committee members, with a maximum of two students.
Other proposed changes include:
- The conduct committee can take into consideration the previous disciplinary history of an accused person.
- There will be a section stating the duties of the Title IX coordinator with a list of the coordinators for all four UM System campuses.
The proposed changes are the result of the Mental Health and Sexual Assault Task Force's suggestions to the university to better ensure the safety of its students and faculty, said John Fougere, chief communications officer for the UM System.
The road to change
The changes come in the wake of an EPSN investigation into the death of Missouri swimmer Sasha Menu Courey. Menu Courey committed suicide in June 2011 after she was allegedly assaulted by one or more football players, according to previous Missourian reporting. She had been hospitalized for psychological problems several times before she took her own life.
ESPN's "Outside the Lines" investigation called into question how the university handled Menu Courey's case. The investigation focused on her story and a May 2011 entry in her journal in which she wrote that she'd mentioned the assault in a phone conversation with her athletics department academic adviser.
Earlier this year, UM System President Tim Wolfe formed the Mental Health and Sexual Assault Task Force, which was asked to review and assess existing policies on reporting sexual assaults and make an inventory of the mental health services available to students.
The UM System also hired the Dowd Bennett law firm to do an independent investigation. Its report came out in April and stated that though the university did not break the law, it was not in compliance with the Title IX guidelines.
In early April, Wolfe issued Executive Order 40, which would require all UM System employees — excluding those bound by confidentiality such as health care providers, counselors and lawyers — to report all known information about sexual harassment or assault of a student to the Title IX coordinator.
Before the order, there was no training for MU staff on how to handle Title IX incidents, according to previous Missourian reporting.
MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced earlier this month that the position of Title IX Coordinator will now be a full-time job; Linda Bennett will be the interim coordinator.
Fougere said the university has made great strides in the past months to improve its handling of Title IX incidents, including creating the Mental Health and Sexual Assault Task Force and issuing Executive Order 40.
"We want to see the *University of Missouri be an example for other schools on how to deal with the societal issues of mental health and sexual assault," Fougere said.
Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.