Thursday, May 9, 2013

DOJ concludes UM investigation

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 1:37 PM

During a joint press conference this morning, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom and representatives from the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorneys Office revealed findings from the DOJ and Department of Education's year-long investigation into UM's handling of sexual assaults. The presser was relatively uninformative, with U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter thanking Engstrom for his cooperation and leadership, Engstrom complimenting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin for the DOJ's smooth and efficient investigation, and all of them concurring that the "agreements" reached between the agencies and the university to make the campus safer would be implemented swiftly and effectively.

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What was less emphasized during the three men's prepared remarks was the fact that the DOJ investigation, according to Austin, found the university has a "significant problem" in its handling of sexual assaults. Among the findings, which are outlined in a 17-page letter addressed to Engstrom, are the following:

1) "[The] investigation showed that [the Office for Public Safety] does not adequately respond to reports of sexual assault, and that its policies and training related to sexual assault response are insufficient and, until recently, nonexistent.

2) "...in August 2012, while [the] investigation was underway, most OPS officers participated in two days of training about sexual assault investigation ... Although that training is an important first step, the University must do more to prepare OPS officers ... Our review revealed gaps in knowledge both too broad and too specific to Montana law to be fully remedied by this two-day training that focused on interview and interrogation techniques."

3) "Prior to [August 2012], only two of OPS' 11 full-time officers and detectives had received specific training on sexual violence, and the most recent of this training had occurred over five years ago."

4) "We found that initial interviews [by OPS officers] of women reporting sexual assault are sometimes deficient to the extent that they discourage women from reporting sexual assaults or from participating in law enforcement's investigation of the incident."

5) "We found that unwarranted gender-based assumptions and stereotypes influence OPS' initial response to sexual assault."

In response to the findings, which are mostly focused on OPS, the DOJ also released a set of "agreements" it has reached with the university. They include the hiring of an independent "equity consultant" who will "evaluate and recommend revisions to the University's policies" and report back to the DOJ, and that "to clarify, and dispel any confusion about where and how students should report various types of sex discrimination, by May 30, 2013, the University ... will draft revisions to its policies and procedures related to sex-based harassment." The agreements, which go on for 16 pages, also include guidelines on training employees, tracking complaints of sex-based harassment and new reporting provisions. The document stipulates the university implement the agreements by December 31, 2015.

Below are full transcripts of the DOJ's prepared remarks:

REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY BY
DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE CIVIL RIGHTS DIVISION
ROY L. AUSTIN JR. AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE ON THE AGREEMENTS WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA

MISSOULA, MONT.

When a student enters the University of Montana campus—or any college campus—she has a right to live, learn and thrive in a safe, nurturing environment, regardless of gender.

Today United States Attorney Michael Cotter and I are pleased to stand with University of Montana President Royce Engstrom to announce agreements with the University, that will transform the campus into a national model of Title IX compliance, and will enable all women to enjoy the full educational benefits of this world class institution. As a result of these agreements between the Department of Justice, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, and the University of Montana, and the continuing leadership of President Engstrom, the University is putting into place critical reforms to its overall system for responding to and preventing sexual assault.

We began this investigation one year ago, and our focus as to the University was to examine whether it has the necessary systems in place to respond promptly and effectively to allegations of sexual assault and harassment on campus, and has taken the necessary steps to combat and prevent sexual violence and sexual harassment across the University community. This investigation has been a joint effort by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education.

We have covered extraordinary ground in the last year—not only concluding a comprehensive investigation of the University’s response to sexual assault, but also reaching two agreements to remedy the problems we found— this would not have been possible without the cooperation and dedication that the University demonstrated throughout.

What is noteworthy about this announcement today is not the problems our investigation found at the University, but a shared commitment to the equality of women students and their safety. We have worked together to create and implement a blueprint for reform that can serve as a model for campuses across the nation to ensure that women’s educational opportunities are not limited by sexual harassment or sexual assault.

This cooperation is especially appreciated because we know that this has been a difficult moment in the University’s history. There has been controversy and division. We heard from women who lived through sexual assault and were unfairly belittled, disbelieved, or blamed for speaking up about what was done to them and we heard from those who are frustrated that the reputation of the entire University has been harmed by the actions of a small minority of students. We have heard from advocates who have seen the negative consequences of systems failures to address the risk and aftermath of sexual assault and we have heard from University officials working hard and with creativity to put changes in place that will protect women from sexual violence.

The agreement addresses the Title IX and Title IV findings by the Department by requiring that the University:

Revise the university’s policies, procedures and investigative practices to provide a grievance procedure that ensures prompt and equitable resolution of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations;
Adequately investigate and respond to allegations of retaliation by students who have alleged sexual assault;
Take sufficient effective action to fully eliminate a hostile environment based on sex, prevent its recurrence and address its effects;
Ensure that the individuals designated to coordinate its Title IX efforts receive adequate training and coordinate these efforts effectively; and
Revise the university’s notice of nondiscrimination to adequately inform students that sex discrimination is prohibited.

The university’s separate agreement with the Department of Justice resolving the investigation of the university’s OPS requires that the university:

· Implement or revise policies, provide training and change practices to improve its response to sexual assault, including combating gender bias;
· Work with an independent monitor, community-based organizations and other stakeholders, to develop and implement the reforms described in the agreement and to evaluate OPS’ success in effecting meaningful reform;
· Demonstrate that its implementation of the agreement has eliminated a pattern or practice of constitutional violations and that it has put in place systems and oversight that will prevent patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct from recurring; and
· Develop procedures for gathering and analyzing data to assess the incidence and outcomes of reports of sexual assault.

President Engstrom has provided forward looking leadership. He has taken problem solving approach and his spirit of cooperation has been especially important. The circumstances that led to this investigation and to the wide-spread public concern long predated his tenure. Yet, he has embraced the need for real and meaningful change and made many tough calls.

His commitment to addressing the concerns on campus regarding sexual assault and its impact on women students is demonstrated by entering into binding, long-term, comprehensive agreements. The implementation of these agreements will improve the safety for women at the University of Montana and ensure that they have equal access to an education.
Together with these agreements, we are also releasing two letters that describe the results of our investigation. The agreements are designed to address the specific concerns we found in our letters.

The problems we found at the University of Montana were real and significant. These concerns, however, are not unique to this campus. The women who are subject to sexual harassment and assault know that without support the devastating consequences for them, their classmates and their community are made all the worse. Institutions of higher learning across the country must be absolutely tireless in their determination to fully and effectively respond to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment on their campuses involving their students.

As a final note, when we opened the investigation into the University, we also began a careful review of the City of Missoula Police Department and the office of the Missoula County Attorney. Those investigations remain ongoing and we remain hopeful for a comprehensive resolution like we have today with the University.


DEPARTMENTS OF JUSTICE AND EDUCATION REACH SETTLEMENT TO ADDRESS AND PREVENT SEXUAL ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT OF STUDENTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA IN MISSOULA

WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights obtained a comprehensive resolution agreement today with the University of Montana-Missoula in Missoula, Mont., to ensure that it responds swiftly and effectively to allegations of sexual assault and harassment by students. In May 2012, the United States launched a comprehensive review of the university’s handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints over a three-year period, as well as its policies, procedures, training and student education efforts. The Department of Justice today also obtained a separate agreement with the university to resolve allegations that the university’s campus police force, the Office of Public Safety (OPS), discriminated against women by failing to adequately respond to reports of on-campus sexual assault.

The two agreements announced today resolve both of the United States’ investigations of the university: under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which both prohibit sex discrimination in education programs, including sexual assault and harassment, and the Department of Justice’s investigation of the university’s campus police under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The Department of Justice continues to seek resolution in its investigations of the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office for their alleged failure to adequately respond to complaints of sexual assault.

The first agreement details specific steps the university will take to:

Revise the university’s policies, procedures and investigative practices to provide a grievance procedure that ensures prompt and equitable resolution of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations;
Adequately investigate and respond to allegations of retaliation by students who have alleged sexual assault;
Take sufficient effective action to fully eliminate a hostile environment based on sex, prevent its recurrence and address its effects;
Ensure that the individuals designated to coordinate its Title IX efforts receive adequate training and coordinate these efforts effectively; and
Revise the university’s notice of nondiscrimination to adequately inform students that sex discrimination is prohibited.

The university’s separate agreement with the Department of Justice resolving the investigation of the university’s OPS requires that the university:

· Implement or revise policies, provide training and change practices to improve its response to sexual assault, including combating gender bias;
· Work with an independent monitor, community-based organizations and other stakeholders, to develop and implement the reforms described in the agreement and to evaluate OPS’ success in effecting meaningful reform;
· Demonstrate that its implementation of the agreement has eliminated a pattern or practice of constitutional violations and that it has put in place systems and oversight that will prevent patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct from recurring; and
· Develop procedures for gathering and analyzing data to assess the incidence and outcomes of reports of sexual assault.

The university anticipates that it will achieve compliance with this agreement within two years.

“For students to feel safe and welcome on college campuses, sexual assault and harassment must be swiftly and effectively addressed,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. “We applaud the university for its cooperation and for taking the steps necessary to maintain a safe learning environment for all students. These agreements provide a blueprint for colleges and universities across the country to take effective steps to prevent and address sexual assault and harassment on their campuses.”

“Through these agreements, President Engstrom and the University of Montana staff have embraced change, not the status quo—they are problem solvers. They are to be commended for developing and implementing a plan to resolve safety issues at the university. The agreements entered into today, between the United States and the University of Montana, when fully implemented, will ensure that a safe living and learning environment will exist at the university where our children will be well educated, nurtured and where they will be allowed to achieve their full potential in a wholesome academic setting,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Michael W. Cotter.

“Sexual harassment and sexual violence exact a devastating toll on students and interfere with their ability to learn in environments that are safe and free from discrimination. The Department of Education expects that today’s resolution agreement will foster a safer environment and one that gives all students the chance to succeed at the University of Montana,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, Seth Galanter.

The prevention of sex-based discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Offices. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt. Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana is available on its website at www.justice.gov/usao/mt. The enforcement of Title IX is also a top priority of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Additional information about the Office for Civil Rights is available on its website at www.ed.gov/ocr/.

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