Friday, April 18, 2014

FSU--the internal and external

This week's theme: mishandled investigations into sexual assault and the investigations that uncover these mishandlings.
The findings that University of Missouri did not appropriately deal with an allegation of sexual assault from earlier this week have been followed by an in-depth piece by Walt Bogdanich at the New York Times about the way in which police in Tallahassee, Florida basically botched the investigation of Jameis Winston who was accused by a (now former) student of sexual assault. (MSNBC's Last Word also ran a story with a helpful timeline of the events.)
These are two different realms, for Title IX purposes at least. The Mizzou report detailed the failures of that institution. The NYT detailed the failures of the police. The latter does not have Title IX implications.
It does, however, shed some light on the power of football culture and the way it affects the campus climate. Bagdanich's piece only briefly touched on the response by Florida State. But an article in today's USA Today, notes the failures of the university to initiate an investigation into the alleged sexual assault, which should have been triggered when a campus police officer responded to the 911 call made on behalf of the woman who alleges Winston raped her in December 2012. Some of the missteps of the Tallahassee police lead Winston to quickly hire a lawyer which has lead to him being pretty tight-lipped about the events of that night. But that does not mean, as both Erin and I told Rachel Axon of USA Today, that the university can simply drop an investigation because Winston is refusing to cooperate. Not pursuing a judicial case against Winston both compounds the fact that the school did not initiate an investigation in a timely manner, contributes to their liability and, I would argue, contributes to a hostile campus climate.
First, we have not seen evidence--even in  the wake of a complaint filed with OCR--that FSU is even attempting to make things better. Schools do respond differently when news arrives that a complaint has been filed about their handling of sexual assault cases. But many have at least made efforts to prove to their own community and the public that they are moving towards making things better, whether by forming internal committees to assess policies, holding public forums, hiring experts, conducting reviews, etc.
But FSU does not seem to be holding either itself or Winston accountable or least trying to assess accountability.
The issue of "cooperation" is moot here. No student who was, for example, brought before a campus judicial board on charges of violating the school's alcohol policy would be allowed to not cooperate with an investigation. He would be punished--perhaps even expelled.
Second, by failing to thoroughly investigate this incident, FSU has set itself up for further problems. What if Winston re-offends? He is a walking liability. I might even go so far as to suggest that if any other football player commits a similar act, one could claim that the university's failure to reprimand football players created a culture in which sexual assault was allowed to continue.
This touches on my last point: campus climate. The NYT found that FSU has reported only 14 sexual assaults on campus in three years (2010-2012 data). I find this almost impossible to believe. What is happening at FSU? There could be some Clery Act violations occurring. At the high end of the chart (of large, public, 4-year institutions) in the NYT piece is Berkeley with 83 reported assaults. Notably, Cal has been accused of Clery Act violations.
And/or the climate at FSU could be one in which reporting sexual assaults is discouraged by peers (look at all the hatred directed at Winston's accuser), by residential life staff, counselors, administrators, deans--any place along the institutional hierarchy. My hope is that the OCR investigation will reveal some of these things.
Meanwhile, the lack of transparency on the part of the university has been troubling. Now that the police investigation into the mishandling of the case has been exposed, I think that the university can no longer hide its own mistakes in dealing (or not) with this case. Right now it appears that they are taking a defensive stance and waiting for OCR to expose them.