When a report was first done by ESPN’s Outside the Lines in January about the failure to investigate claims of rape made by former Missouri swimmer Sasha Menu Courey, who would later commit suicide, the university’s response was generally defensive. They claimed in several letters that they believed the reporting was unfair and that ESPN’s angle on the story put them in an impossible situation.
The university took a decidedly different tone after the law firm Dowd Bennett released their independent review of the situation.
Dowd Bennett concluded first and foremost that the University of Missouri did not have policies in place for its employees addressing how they should handle this sort of information, and that they should have acted upon information they received in November, 2012.
However, the report also concluded that they could not conclude that any University employee knew of the assault against Menu-Courey prior to her death, other than medical personnel who appropriately held themselves bound by confidentiality rules. This means that the independent review could not confirm that there was any legal failure to report an alleged rape to law enforcement.
The University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe’s official statement on the matter indicates an intent to improve upon the policies recommended by the review.
“I want to thank the Dowd Bennett law firm and its well-qualified, experienced and diverse team for performing this independent investigation to determine whether university employees acted consistent with law and university policy regarding Ms. Menu Courey’s time at the university,” Wolfe said. “We will be examining these findings, and together with the recommendations of our sexual assault and mental health services task force and my recent executive order strengthening our Title IX reporting policy, will improve the way we serve people on our campuses in terms of sexual assault prevention, reporting, and education and mental health service delivery in the future. We have taken this decisive action because the safety and security of the students, faculty and staff on our four campuses is an absolute priority.”
Wolfe also apologized to Menu-Courey’s family, and according to the Kansas City Star, they accepted the apology and were satisfied with the finding of the results.
One of the biggest differences between now and when this story first broke is the presence of new leadership at the University of Missouri. Specifically, R. Bowen Loftin, the former president of Texas A&M, began duties as the chancellor at the University of Missouri on February 1st. In his time at Texas A&M, Loftin developed a reputation as an open and honest leader, and that came through in his response to the first major crisis of his tenure in Columbia.
In a letter sent to the Missouri student body, faculty, and staff on Tuesday, Loftin committed to improving the processes for dealing with these sorts of issues, despite the fact that nobody who was able to do anything about Menu Courey’s allegations knew of them until after her death:
Here is what I know: I know that we must refine our policies and procedures as they relate to the handling of criminal allegations and investigations, particularly those involving sexual assault. I know that we must improve the coordination between law enforcement, our Title IX Coordinator and the Office of Student Conduct. I know that we must earn back any trust or confidence lost through our actions or lack thereof. I also know, that even one case of sexual assault, domestic violence or of an unanswered mental health concern is one too many. Our students and their parents; our faculty and staff; our alumni and community neighbors all deserve a safe and secure campus environment. This is really “job one” since a safe campus is required for learning and discovery to take place.
The University of Missouri also released a broader statement from Loftin:
First, I want to extend my most sincere and heartfelt condolences to the entire Menu-Courey family, to Sasha’s friends and teammates and to all those who cared deeply about her. Time cannot lessen the enormity of her loss. On behalf of the entire University of Missouri family, I extend my deepest sympathies to Sasha’s family.
I thank President Wolfe and the Board of Curators for providing the time, resources and transparency to look into this matter. These issues are of the utmost importance on a college campus, and we take them very seriously. The safety, security and health of our students are our most important priorities.
I have not had time to read the Dowd report thoroughly since I received it, but along with our senior administrative team, I will begin that process this evening and will withhold any comment on the Dowd Bennett report until we have completed our review.
However, since the circumstances surrounding Sasha’s passing were made public in January, both the UM System and our institution have worked diligently to listen, to learn and to enhance our policies and procedures. This is an update on where we are today:
* The Columbia Police Department continues to investigate the matter, and we will provide any and all cooperation they seek.
* As you know, President Wolfe directed all four UM campuses to conduct a comprehensive review of all sexual assault and mental health resources available to students, staff and faculty and then to re-educate our communities about those resources. In addition, each campus was tasked with reviewing all policies, procedures and training as it relates to sexual assault and mental health. We have completed the first phase of this task, a comprehensive inventory of all available resources, and we communicated with every member of campus last week to remind them of those resources. We look forward to seeing additional results and recommendations from the campus task force in the coming weeks.
* Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mike Alden also created a sub-task force solely to examine how our Department of Athletics handles student incidents and concerns, a group that includes an independent prosecutor, our campus sexual assault coordinator and the associate dean of the University’s Law School.
* Already, we have identified areas for improvement in our sexual assault reporting policies and procedures, and we hope to implement them in the coming months. We must then educate our faculty and staff across all departments on those procedures and their responsibilities to our community.
* President Wolfe issued Executive Order 40 to supplement the University’s nondiscrimination policies and make clear that every employee (unless they are health care providers, counselors, lawyers, and have a legal obligation to maintain confidentiality) is required to report sexual harassment perpetrated against students to the appropriate Title IX Coordinator, and we have communicated this to the entire campus community.