Guest opinion: UM working to get facts on student rape reports

2011-12-27T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: UM working to get facts on student rape reportsBy ROYCE ENGSTROM University of Montana
President
The Billings Gazette

This message is in response to recent events involving conduct of University of Montana students in various matters. Earlier this week, two student athletes, Trumaine Johnson and Gerald Kemp, entered a “no contest” plea to charges of disorderly conduct. At the time of the original incident, football coach Robin Pflugrad implemented sanctions proportionate to the factual knowledge on hand. Those sanctions involved both on-the-field consequences, visible to the public; and off-the-field consequences, not visible to the public.

Now that these two student athletes have concluded their criminal cases, the University will review their actions within the framework of our Student Athlete Code of Conduct to determine what further actions, if any, are appropriate. Federal and state privacy laws applicable to all University of Montana students, including student athletes, do not permit further comment regarding these two students. We appreciate the work of the Missoula Police Department, the patience of the community, and the understanding of those who recognized the need to act upon facts and legal outcomes as opposed to rumor and premature judgment.

We turn now to the recent allegations of assault against two female students. First and foremost, on behalf of the university community, I am sorry for any trauma these women may have suffered. The college experience should be the best time of a person’s life, and to have that experience marred by such an incident is tragic. My heart goes out to them and their families. Whatever the details are surrounding these events, I wish for them a return to normal life. We will do whatever we can to help make that possible.

The university has a responsibility, both ethically and legally, to investigate these alleged incidents and take appropriate action. Immediately upon learning of the allegations, we put into motion our available approaches to offering help to the victims, and we began an investigation. The investigation was headed up by our Equal Opportunity Office, Lucy France, and Dean of Students Charles Couture. We took immediate steps to make sure that our campus police force was informed and in contact with the Missoula Police Department. We assembled a team that has communicated daily to maintain coordination of our efforts. Our team is committed to doing what is right for the students, to act upon factual information, and to protect the confidentiality of students, whether victims, suspects, or witnesses. Within a matter of days, we expanded our team to include Diane Barz, a highly regarded professional in the Montana legal system. We did that to capitalize upon her expertise as an investigator, to provide a completely objective viewpoint in our investigation, and to speed up the investigation.

At this point, the investigative team has interviewed dozens of people. We do not yet have evidence that leads to a specific crime, nor have we implicated any individuals. We pledge two things:

We will continue to work doggedly to find evidence.

We will act only upon evidence and not hearsay, innuendo, or accusation. Additionally, we will cooperate fully with law enforcement in the event an investigation occurs outside the university.

I implore students, male and female, to take responsibility for your personal well-being. You have the opportunity for one of the best educational experiences in public higher education, at a campus that was just recognized as the safest in Montana. You have before you a remarkable array of academic choices, the mentorship of a dedicated, world-class faculty, the chance to forge lifelong friendships, and the opportunity to open doors that will serve you for a lifetime. Don’t close those doors by letting your guard down. I ask that you follow these guidelines:

1. If you drink, do so in moderation. Nearly every bad encounter we see involves excessive use of alcohol.

2. Maintain control of what you ingest. Drugs can be easily added to drinks when you are not looking.

3. Don’t be naïve. Most of the people you encounter are decent, respectful people but unfortunately, not everyone is.

4. Use the buddy system and take real responsibility for one another, especially in unfamiliar situations.

We will do everything we can to provide a safe environment for our students, including strengthening our educational program this coming spring semester. Please help us. If you have information pertinent to this investigation, contact Lucy France at 406-243-5710. Thank you.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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