MISSOULA — The University of Montana is meeting the demands of an agreement reached earlier this year with the Department of Justice and how it handles cases of sexual assault and harassment, school administrators said Tuesday.
UM legal counsel Lucy France and vice president of administration and finance Michael Reid told the University Council that the school has achieved several initial goals required by the DOJ.
“There’s some new legislation offered in the Violence Against Women Act, and we’re ahead of the game,” France said. “We’re ahead of most universities under that act. Our policies are already compliant with the new law that goes into effect in 2014.”
The DOJ investigated the university in 2012 for its handling of cases of sexual assault and harassment. The agency released its findings earlier this year and, in doing so, it required the school to take corrective actions.
But portions of that agreement raised red flags among some faculty members. France said the administration has and continues to work to address them.
“There were some concerns about a portion of the policy and one portion of the procedures,” France said. “Because we’re under a resolution agreement, before we make substantive changes to our policies and procedures, we need to ask for approval from DOJ.”
Among the changes, the university is seeking approval to do away with language allowing it to take corrective action for disruptive behavior, even if the accused was found not have committed a policy violation.
France said the university also will do away with language requiring an individual who has committed a policy violation to sign a statement of agreement. Nor will the school submit names of faculty and staff to the DOJ after employee training on sexual assault and harassment, as was initially required.
“There was a concern in the resolution agreement that the university would provide names of people who completed or did not complete employee training,” France said. “DOJ has agreed that we don’t have to provide those names.”
France said the university instead will report compliance by sector, such as the College of Arts and Sciences, or other schools within the larger university.
“The goal, for the university, is that we achieve full compliance,” France said.
France also touched on a new sexual misconduct website, the hiring of a sexual assault prevention coordinator and a new student survey.
Christine Fiore, a professor of psychology at UM, said roughly 1,700 students have taken the survey thus far. She said faculty training also will begin next year in bystander intervention.
“It’s basically the most effective practice right now to intervene on sexual violence on campus,” said Fiore. “It’s teaching peers how to stand up and help people from dangerous situations. We’ll have programs all next semester.”
Reid said the resolution agreement also focused on specific things UM and its Office of Public Safety must do to achieve compliance, including an assessment and modification of sexual assault policies and protocols.
The school was required to provide ongoing sexual assault response training to campus police officers, improve the investigation of non-stranger and alcohol-facilitated sex assault, and secure independent monitoring of the university’s effort.
To meet that last requirement, UM, in conjunction with the Missoula Police Department, secured the monitoring of Tom Tremblay, a former Vermont police chief, to ensure UM campus police are compliant with the DOJ agreement.
Reid said Tremblay has visited Missoula on several occasions and has given the Office of Public Safety a good score early in the process.
“I’m pleased to report the progress on these efforts has been substantial,” Tremblay wrote. “The Office of Public Safety’s policies are in the final draft, the initial training for officers and detectives has been completed, and the external review panel has received training and conducted the first case review in September.”
Gary Taylor, chief of campus police, said his department also is working more closely with the Missoula Police Department.
In the past, Taylor said, MPD conducted felony investigations on campus, and the two agencies had little contact with each other.
“The communication lines have really opened up between the agencies,” Taylor said. “We’re leaning what they do, they’re learning what we do. We understand what both parties are trying to do, with the main thrust of supporting the victims.”