University of Minnesota expanding efforts to stop sexual misconduct: Initiative follows series of incidents
MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota will embark on a public awareness campaign and expanded training with the message that everyone on campus is responsible for preventing sexual misconduct.
After a series of high-profile incidents involving student-athletes and staff, President Eric Kaler in May tasked public health dean John Finnegan with leading an initiative to combat sexual assault and harassment.
More than 300 students, faculty and staff contributed to the effort, whose recommendations Kaler mostly accepted this week. Kaler said he'd set aside $540,000 over two years for the work, with future funding to be determined later.
"I can't emphasize enough how important this is to me," Kaler said Thursday, Nov. 9, during a joint meeting of the university and faculty senates.
Survey results from 2015 showed nearly one in four women undergrads at the U were victims of broadly defined sexual assault or misconduct. One in eight said they had been victims of criminal rape or sodomy.
The U's results were comparable to those at other large U.S. colleges and universities.
Kaler said Thursday he's equally concerned about sexual harassment among faculty and staff, acknowledging the university's "record so far has been far from perfect."
"We're going to get rid of that poison," Kaler said.
Norwood Teague resigned as athletics director in 2015 after two women colleagues accused him of sexual harassment. In May, the U demoted its top athletics fundraiser, Randy Handel, for unwelcome touching of women at work.
At least two other incidents have pushed officials to act on sexual misconduct: In 2015, the university paid $250,000 to a gymnast who reported her coach's husband sexually harassed her; and five football players last school year were disciplined over a woman's rape allegation.
In response, all student-athletes got four years of training on sexual misconduct last year and three more hours this year, athletics director Mark Coyle said.
More reporting, training
The Board of Regents next month is expected to approve a new sexual harassment policy that, among other things, promotes broader reporting of sexual misconduct.
The new policy calls for all U employees — not just those in supervisory or advisory roles — to report to the campus Title IX office any incidents of sexual misconduct against students and any incidents of sexual assault, stalking or relationship violence, but not sexual harassment, against non-students. Employes bound by victim confidentiality are exempt.
Lauren Mitchell, a graduate student leader, objected to that change. She said Thursday that making all employees mandatory reporters could override victims' wishes in some cases.
A gender studies professor agreed, saying the reporting requirement could stifle classroom discussions.
Title IX Coordinator Tina Marisam said the feedback she has gotten is that victims appreciate the U reaching out to offer support.
Once the new policy is in place, the U will start requiring online training for all faculty and employees. The program is intended to establish a culture that supports victims and no longer tolerates sexual harassment, Provost Karen Hanson said.
Students too will get sexual misconduct training each year, starting in fall 2018.
Finnegan said a key message will be that bystanders must intervene to prevent sexual misconduct, whether by direct intervention, distraction or involving an authority.
"Eradicating sexual misconduct on our campus is the responsibility of each one of us," Kaler wrote in response to Finnegan's report.