If Montana State University was absolutely serious about stopping sexual harassment on campus, it would release a report that found one of its notable leaders engaged in sexually harassing behavior.
By releasing the university's own investigation of Jay Sanderson, dubbed "The Voice of The Bobcats," MSU would allow the greater Montana community to see who is perpetrating harassment and what the university is doing to curb the problem endemic to so many institutions.
Instead, one of the state's flagship universities has chosen to afford a privacy to a former employee it acknowledges likely harassed a woman so badly that she felt she had no other option than to flee the Treasure State.
MSU, like any other public institution, gives great lip service about the threat of sexual violence and stopping it. That's as it should be. That kind of behavior has no place anywhere, and can run rampant on campus. Moreover, universities must assure parents and students that type of behavior is not tolerated. Universities must do that in order to gain the trust of anxious parents who are getting ready to send their beloved children to college.
However, we believe the university has to do more than obligatory statements and running federally mandated programs.
Just this week, The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com revealed the university upheld its decision against Sanderson. It ruled there was enough evidence to find that Sanderson harassed a female sports journalist working for the Missoulian, including grabbing her on the buttocks and sending sexually suggestive text messages.
When we asked to obtain a copy of the report, the university's chief legal counsel said that Sanderson's right to privacy outweighed the public's right to know.
However, if MSU is truly serious about curbing sexual harassment and a culture that promotes it, it must also be equally serious about transparency. It must say specifically what has happened and what steps will be taken to ensure this won't happen again. By keeping the report under wraps, the university looks complicit in trying to dust the unfortunate events under the rug and out of public sight — especially as students are beginning to finalize their decisions about which college to attend.
We can see plenty of evidence that the administration and the university have placed a certain amount of emphasis on eliminating sexual harassment and abuse.
We also believe that MSU took the report seriously. From an initial investigation which was obtained by Lee Montana, we see a thorough, thoughtful investigation and conclusions. In that respect, MSU did the right thing. But when it comes to disclosing and transparency, it fumbled.
Since 2013, we can find required Title IX compliance programming which begins by stating, "President (Waded) Cruzado, the University Council and the Office of Institutional Equity have a strong commitment to education and awareness of the prevention of sex discrimination, sexual harassment and gender based harassment of students on the campus of Montana State University."
Those are all the right words, but are the university's actions enough?
Just last month, a member of a national committee which is studying the impact of sexual harassment, Anna Kirkland, visited the campus. Speakers are good, but if the problem is addressed only in a general way, it disguises the fact that the behavior has happened on the Bozeman campus.
MSU is no stranger to allegations of harassment and lawsuits.Two weeks ago, MSU agreed to pay $120,000 to a former student who claimed discrimination after the student was expelled for allegedly threatening a transgendered student. The student denied making the statement and the expulsion was wiped from the record.
In other lawsuit, a Myka Perry said MSU failed to provide coverage for two gender-affirming surgeries.
Three years ago, students from the Queer Straight Alliance also picketed the campus, demanding that Cruzado address five demands to make the campus friendlier and safer for LGBTQ students.
These three examples, plus the one of Sanderson, may suggest that the work in Bozeman is far from being done. The university must be transparent. It must own the problems that are bound to come with a campus of more than 20,000 people. Finally, it must call out those bad actors so they're not allowed to repeat the actions, and the students, parents and residents of Montana can be certain that nothing is being covered up.