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The University of Montana campus

The University of Montana campus in Missoula is pictured in this file photo.

ANNE CRUIKSHANK, Missoulian

The University of Montana signed an agreement this month to resolve an allegation it discriminated against a student on the basis of gender when it failed to adequately respond to incidents of sexual violence, according to records from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

In a complaint filed in October 2017, the student also said UM failed to respond to retaliation, an allegation resolved in the April 9 agreement between the Office for Civil rights and the campus.

However, the Montana Kaimin, which first reported the settlement, said a separate federal investigation of sexual harassment allegations started Feb. 5 and is currently underway at UM, citing the Office for Civil Rights. The Office for Civil Rights had not confirmed that new investigation as of Thursday afternoon.

A sexual assault scandal plagued the Missoula flagship starting in 2012 when two federal agencies launched investigations into the campus for allegations it failed to properly handle rape reports. In 2013, UM entered into an agreement with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education and pledged to improve its responses to reports of violence.

UM has since touted itself as a model campus in addressing safety and proactively discouraging assault. In a brief statement Thursday, UM communications director Paula Short said UM is obligated under the law to prevent discrimination and works to do so.

"The university always wants to improve its process. It is not easy for people to come forward. There are already a number of barriers," Short said in an email.

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In December 2017, the Missoulian filed a records request under the Freedom of Information Act to receive a complaint filed against UM with the Department of Education and subsequent response from its Office for Civil Rights. The following month, the Office for Civil Rights provided copies of the complaint and response with 45 out of 50 pages redacted.

However, the Nov. 27 letter from the Office of Civil Rights noted the student reported incidents of violence and retaliation in the 2016-2017 academic year, and it noted an investigation would occur "because the allegations raise possible violations of Title IX."

"Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance," said the letter. "The university is a recipient of federal financial assistance from this department and is, therefore, required to comply with Title IX."

Short provided the Missoulian a copy of the agreement President Seth Bodnar signed. However, she did not immediately respond to a question about whether Title IX funds are at risk at UM.

As part of the resolution, UM agrees to review how it processes reports of sexual assault and retaliation, remedy any harm, and possibly provide employees with guidance on existing policies, among other provisions.

In return, the Office for Civil Rights agrees to discontinue investigation of the 2017 complaint based on UM's commitment to actions outlined in the voluntary resolution.

"The university understands that OCR will not close the monitoring of this agreement until OCR determines that the university has fulfilled the terms of this agreement and is in compliance with the regulations implementing Title IX ... ," said the agreement.

It was not immediately clear whether the alleged perpetrator or perpetrators in the 2017 complaint currently have official affiliations with UM.

The student who filed the October 2017 complaint declined to comment on whether the resolution was satisfactory.

Additional information about the investigation launched this year was not immediately available.

Reporter Dillon Kato contributed to this story.

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.