Department of Justice wraps up UM Sexual assault investigation

fedengstrom A yearlong federal investigation into whether or not the University of Montana mishandled reports of sexual assault on campus is over. Both sides say the resulting agreement to protect students will prove to be the gold standard among American universities.
The joint Department of Justice and Department of Education’s investigation started just over a year ago after 11 assaults involving university students were reported over an 18-month period. Investigators wanted to know if gender discrimination affected the response of local law enforcement and university officials.
During today’s press conference, Montana U-S Attorney Michael Cotter was flanked by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Roy Austin and U-M President Royce Engstrom. Cotter says Engstrom has made several “bold and difficult” decisions over the past year-and-a-half. He says the investigation did not focus on any one specific campus department, that investigators took a campus-wide approach and found several areas of concern; namely a number of women victims saying they were belittled and feared retaliation if they pursed their complaints.
U-M and the Department of Justice reached two agreements. The first requires the university to take several steps; those include, but are not limited to:
* providing prompt resolutions of complaints of sex-based harassment
* training all members of the campus community.
* implementing of a system to thoroughly track  complaints of sex-based harassment
* and instituting a system to evaluate U-M’s progress.
The second agreement addresses the role of U-M’s campus police force and how it responds to sexual assault reports. That agreement requires several steps including one to work with an independent monitor, community-based organizations and other stakeholders to develop and implement the reforms. Those entities will also evaluate the campus police department’s progress.
While the D-o-J’s investigation into U-M is now complete, a separate investigation continues into local law enforcement’s response to sexual assault cases. Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenberg last year vigorously disputed the D-o-J’s authority to investigate his office. Austin says Van Valkenberg has not budged from that position.
Austin says the D-o-J has the authority to try to take legal action against non-cooperating agencies, but adds both sides are -quote – “continuing to talk”.
U-M President Engstrom says there’s little doubt the federal investigation into U-M’s handling of sexual assault allegations has hurt enrollment. Engstrom says the closure of the investigation will “put people’s minds at ease knowing the university is working diligently on creating one of the safest campus environments anywhere.”
While the federal investigation into U-M is now closed, the N-C-A-A’s investigation into the school’s football program is ongoing.

UM President speaks about the pain of budget-trimming

Engstrom       The University of Montana won’t know till fall how many students are enrolled but UM expects to see another drop. Last fall, UM had 700 fewer students than the previous year, and the school expects, in a worst case scenario, they could be down another 450 this coming fall. Administrators are trying to plan for that. In this feature interview, UM President Royce Engstrom talks with News Director Sally Mauk about how UM is dealing with that projected shortfall.

Missoula College most contentious project in bonding bill

A University of Montana handout showing a rendering of the proposed new Missoula College building

A University of Montana handout showing a rendering of the proposed new Missoula College building

The Montana Legislature is looking at a nearly $100 million dollar bonding bill (HB14) to fund a dozen construction projects at colleges and other state departments. These range from renovating Main Hall at the University of Montana-Western in Dillon to constructing a new Montana Historical Society building.

The single project in the bonding bill   generating the most opposition is building a new Missoula College facility (formerly known as the Missoula COT) on the current University of Montana golf course.

“The last best open space in Missoula just happens to be a golf course,” Missoula resident Lewis Schneller told a bonding bill hearing of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittees on Education and Long Range Planning. Schneller echoed the sentiments of several bill opponents in preferring the a new Missoula College be built instead west of town at the site known as Fort Missoula.
College officials say the current facility built for 700 students is woefully inadequate to serve the 2,500 students currently attending school there. Missoula resident Cindy Reimers says most of the people she talks to agree a new facility is badly needed but “only about one in a hundred people I speak to want it at the new location being chosen by the University.”

University of Montana President Royce Engstrom says building on the golf course, otherwise known as “South Campus” is a proposal “thinking about the future of the University of Montana as a whole.” He says Missoula College is the next building that needs to be built, but UM has outgrown the main ‘Mountain Campus’ and other projects will need a space. He points out the UM golf course is less than a mile away from the main campus, versus the six to seven miles it takes to reach Fort Missoula.

“Where does the next building go, does it go in Fort Missoula?” Engstrom asked the committee. “Does it go at South Campus? Does is go along the River? That’s a very inefficient way to design and plan for the long term future of this institution, the University of Montana that is so important to Missoula and so important to the state of Montana.”

Similar bonding bills failed the previous two legislative sessions. Long Range Planning Subcommittee Chair Representative Rob Cook (R-Conrad) thinks there is “consensus the projects are necessary.” But he says there may not be consensus on approving bonding loans for all of the projects versus paying for them with cash from the state’s budget surplus. He does hope to see all of the projects stay together in one bill, however.

“Once you start to separate projects then the likelihood of that project actually getting funded and getting the go ahead is significantly reduced. The goal would be to keep as many of these together as possible,” he said.

Sally Mauk talks legislative priorities and federal investigations with UM President Royce Engstrom

University of Montana President Royce Engstrom is having a busy winter, preparing arguments for the legislature, hiring a new Cabinet, and steering the campus through two federal investigations and an NCAA investigation. In tonight’s feature interview, Engstrom sits down with News Director Sally Mauk to talk first about legislative priorities. Those include making sure the university system gets a boost in funding to cover inflation and other rising costs:…

Sally Mauk talks with media consultant Teresa Parrot about the importance of telling the truth…

Media consultant Teresa Parrot met earlier this month with University of Montana President Royce Engstrom and other campus leaders, to advise them on how to improve their communication both on-campus and off. The university has faced a lot of scrutiny in recent months, in the wake of two federal investigations of how the campus has handled sexual assaults, and an investigation of the football program by the NCAA. In this feature interview, Parrot talks with News Director Sally Mauk about the advice she gives universities who are dealing with crisis management. She has a lot of experience, including at her alma mater, the University of Colorado, which dealt with alleged sexual assaults by members of its football team…


Mary Sheehy Moe Commentary: “Not Looking Away”

In an interesting feature a few weeks ago, Sally Mauk interviewed sociologist Michael Kimmel on the issue of sexual assault. Dr. Kimmel pointed out that while rape actually occurs between one individual and another, it’s made possible by a culture, a culture that looks the other way.
Given the bright light shown on the incidence of sexual assault at the University of Montana in recent months, Dr. Kimmel’s comment troubled me. I recalled a conversation I had with three university students some time ago on the subject of being “roofied.” I had never heard the expression before, so these young women educated me. Getting “roofied” is when someone puts a drug in your drink that leaves you unable to know, resist, or remember what happens hours after that. These three all claimed to know someone who knew someone who had been roofied – someone who had woken up half-clad and totally dazed in a parking lot, a field, or the apartment of some guy she kinda knew.
I took these claims with more than a grain of salt. What was harder to shake, though, was the fact that these girls had all had adopted practices to protect against getting “roofied.” They started to tell me some, and as they did, more young women joined our group and added their own tried-but-true anti-roofie methods: They always went to parties with friends and they left with friends. They brought their own cups and drank only out of their own cups. They never shared their drink with anyone. “Not even someone using a straw,” one girl said. “Especially not someone with a straw,” another insisted, and they all nodded their heads knowingly.
I left that conversation thinking, Wow. Getting roofied? And it’s now so de rigeur on campuses that young women educate one another about the protection protocols? But I never reported this conversation to anyone at the University of Montana. It didn’t seem like my business. It wasn’t until I heard Dr. Kimmel explain that rape is supported by a culture that looks away from abherrant behavior, that accepts it in a way, that I reflected, wow. Those young women live in that culture. They invited me in. And I looked the other way.
It wasn’t the first time. When one of my daughters attended UM almost a decade ago, she worked at a popular watering hole there. It was especially popular among football players, and my daughter would routinely complain to me about the harassment they continually subjected her to, sometimes in the presence of assistant coaches. I worked in the university system at that time and at one point considered taking it right to the top. But my daughter said she would take care of it, and she did. On the larger issue, though, the sort of boys-will-be-boys tolerance for crude and predatory treatment of women by and among some athletes, I guess we both looked the other way.
There’s been a great deal of comment on the sexual assault controversies at the University of Montana for the past six months. The Missoulian reporters who have diligently dogged this story have been vilified by some of the more lathered-up citizens of Griz Nation. Incensed alumni have demanded to know the particulars of the non-renewal of the contracts of Robin Pflugrad and Jim O’Day. Enraged bloggers insist that the University is protecting athletes, rather than young women. And in the eye of this storm, criticized by all these groups, is University of Montana President Royce Engstrom.
I’ve followed President Engstrom’s actions on this matter since the allegations of sexual assaults first came to light. And whatever else you say about President Engstrom’s handling of this difficult, difficult issue, you must concede this: he hasn’t looked the other way.
As Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian told the Regents last month, Engstrom called him in mid-December, before the assault issue had become public, and told him, This situation is far-reaching and deeply disturbing. It’s going to be a rocky road, but we must pursue it.
Engstrom has stayed that course ever since. While some on his staff fretted about PR, he went ahead and had the community forums. When he reached the conclusion that he needed new leadership in the athletic department to effect a change in campus culture, he made the change, knowing it wouldn’t be popular in some quarters and that he wouldn’t be able to elaborate. While the County Attorney fumed at the intrusion of the Department of Justice into Missoula matters, Engstrom accepted the DOJ’s presence, saying we think we’ve put good procedures in place, but if there is something to be learned from the DOJ investigation, we want to learn it. He has navigated a complex landscape, consistently mindful of the competing rights, reputations, and expectations of victims, accused, personnel, and public. And from start to finish, in an environment where it seems everybody has something critical to say about someone else, he has consistently avoided name-calling, second-guessing, and buck-passing.
Has he made mistakes? Yes, and he’s admitted them. Does he have regrets? Sure. But as he has said since last December, the University of Montana is going to do what’s right, regardless of fall-out. In the short run, that may damage the reputation of the university. But in the long run, the university will be stronger and better for it – and, most importantly, so will its students.
As President Engstrom told Sally Mauk recently, he is now keenly aware that sexual assault shatters young women’s dreams. They come to college full of optimism, anticipating a creative, productive, and happy time, and sexual assault steals that from them. I would add that it just doesn’t steal their dreams. It steals their reality – their world and their worldview is immediately and permanently changed. Royce Engstrom can’t get those things back for them. But he – and you and I and the entire university community – can do better by tomorrow’s young women. The culture of predation and entitlement that led to these assaults was a long time in the making and, like it or not, it happened to some extent because too many of us looked the other way. It’s time for all of us to join President Engstrom on the long, hard road to a healthier campus culture.

Sally Mauk talks with UM President Royce Engstrom about the campus sexual assaults

UM President Royce Engstrom

The investigations of alleged sexual assaults on and off the campus of the University of Montana have dominated the headlines since December. The university first conducted its own investigation, and now the federal departments of Justice and Education are investigating how the university – and Missoula law enforcement – have handled the allegations. The NCAA is also conducting a separate investigation of UM’s football program. In this half-hour interview, Engstrom talks with News Director Sally Mauk about the past seven months – and what he hopes is the end result of all the scrutiny…

Sally Mauk talks with UM President Royce Engstrom about the sexual assault investigations

UM President Royce Engstrom

The U.S. Department of Education has joined the Justice Department in investigating how the University of Montana has handled several sexual assault allegations over the last year and a half. In this interview, Engstrom talks with News Director Sally Mauk about that – and about some controversial e-mails UM administrators exchanged. Engstrom tells Mauk the Education Department investigation will look at many of the same issues that Justice is investigating…

Sally Mauk’s report on the federal sexual assault investigation of Missoula and UM

Sally Mauk

The federal Department of Justice announced they are investigating if Missoula’s police and prosecutors – and the University of Montana –  have properly handled numerous reports of alleged sexual assault over the last three years. News Director Sally Mauk attended the press conference DOJ held with local officials, and filed this live report. It includes excerpts from the press conference, as well as Sally’s interviews with the lead federal investigator Thomas Perez – and UM President Royce Engstrom…

Sally Mauk talks with UM President Royce Engstrom about the university’s sexual assault report

UM President Royce Engstrom

The University of Montana says 5 students alleged to have been involved in sexual assaults have either been expelled or left school voluntarily, and three other alleged perpetrators are appealing actions taken under the student conduct code. The university has released its final investigation into 9 alleged sexual assaults dating back to 2010. The report says 4 of the cases have resulted in the actions mentioned above, 3 were closed for lack of evidence, and two cases were suspended because the victims didn’t want to go forward.Since that report was begun, other alleged incidents of sexual assault – two involving UM football players – have come to light. News Director Sally Mauk interviewed UM President Royce Engstrom about the report: