Counsel: Missouri didn't break laws, didn't properly act on Menu Courey information

University of Missouri

A tumultuous week in Columbia finished with a report from the independent counsel hired by the University of Missouri to review its policies and handling of the information surrounding Sasha Menu Courey's alleged sexual assault. From the Columbia Tribune:

The counsel’s report highlights four conclusions: the university failed to have Title IX policies in place for its employees, contrary to the Department of Education’s guidance on Title IX; the university should have acted on the information it had in November 2012 about Menu Courey’s rape allegations; a Tribune article published in February 2012 indicating a diary mention from Menu Courey related to a sexual assault should have been provided to the Title IX coordinator; and finally, that there is no definitive conclusion that university employees were aware of Menu Courey’s assault while she was alive, aside from medical personnel.

You can find the entire report here (PDF).

To me, the first and last points above (in bold) are the keys to the report. The last reminds you of the timing and stakes of the situation -- since we know people will take this to the most harmful possible degree, this reminds us that what Missouri is getting dinged for in no way caused her death -- and the first reminds you that Missouri's interpretation of Title IX responsibilities were inadequate and are in need of immediate fixing.

The response of Missouri's athletic department to statements and allegations made in ESPN's Outside the Lines reporting asserted that the university lived up to its interpretations of the law, that because this alleged incident took place off campus and did not specifically implicate Mizzou students, that "this is not enough information to suggest that the University 'reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment.'" This report calls that into question. And it also points out that in early 2012, system recommended changes to UM's Title IX policy, and as of late-2012, they had not been implemented.

For reasons unclear to Dowd Bennett, notwithstanding the formation of the committee and the issuance of its Report on Title IX, the University had yet to implement policies to address how University employees should handle allegations of sexual assault upon a University student of which they become aware and what actions and procedures should be followed by the University to investigate and ensure compliance with Title IX once the University receives notice of such allegations. The MU Title IX Coordinator, the MU Vice Chancellor (and Deputy Title IX Coordinator), and the UM System Vice President for Human Resources have each acknowledged that such policies had yet to be implemented. Witnesses have indicated that, to the best of their recollection, members of the General Counsel’s Office took the position that the then-existing employee policies were sufficient. The attorney from the General Counsel’s Office who sat on the committee stated in her interview, "We probably dropped the ball."

This passage from the report tells us why this is important:

Because of the documents found in Sasha Menu Courey’s e-mail, on November 20, 2012, the University was on notice of a possible rape against an MU student, who had committed suicide. Though there was no information as to whether the reported rape occurred on or off campus, the chat transcript indicated that the alleged assailant/s were "football players," presumably from the MU team. Though Sasha Menu Courey was no longer alive (and therefore, could not be subject to further prohibited harassment), it was not known whether the alleged assailant/s were still students and thereby still posed a risk to others on campus.

The good news, as it were, is that unless new allegations come out, there were no further incidents involving these alleged players. Missouri put itself in danger by not putting strong policy (or strong interpretation) into place, but it now has an opportunity to rectify its deficiencies and make sure that if a similar circumstance presents itself in the future, the proper actions will be taken.

Here is a passage regarding Menu Courey's alleged assault and whether she told university official Meghan Anderson about it; that was one of the most damaging parts of the Outside the Lines report.

Ms. [Meghan] Anderson, who is no longer an MU employee, voluntarily agreed to an in-person interview with Dowd Bennett. In that interview, Ms. Meghan Anderson acknowledged that she did have a telephone call with Sasha Menu Courey on May 12, 2011. She was at a restaurant with a friend/co-worker celebrating the friend’s birthday. At 9:02 pm the call was made to Meghan Anderson’s cell phone. Meghan said when the phone rang, she saw that the call was from Boston and she assumed it was Sasha. At first, she was hesitant to answer because it had been suggested to her that given the seriousness of Sasha’s mental health issues, and the lack of training she or others from the Athletic Department had with dealing with such serious mental health issues, it might be best to leave it to the treating medical providers to have any significant interaction with Sasha. Nevertheless, Meghan Anderson answered the phone because she stated she did not want to ignore Sasha. She stepped away from the table to take the call.

As to what was said during the call, Meghan Anderson is adamant that Sasha Menu Courey did not tell her she had been "raped." She is very confident that had she heard that word, she would have reacted strongly and known exactly what she would have needed to do (which, in her understanding was to report it to her superiors). She likewise stated, she did not hear anything about a sexual assault. Rather, she recalls Sasha telling her that she was hesitant to return to school because "bad things had happened there." Ms. Anderson assumed that the "bad things" were Sasha Menu Courey’s attempts to take her own life. She stated that she did not hear anything that suggested Sasha Menu Courey was sexually assaulted. Because she believed she knew what the "bad things" were, she did not ask about them during the call. The conversation also involved a discussion of Sasha’s alternatives for the next school year.

The interview of Meghan Anderson was conducted by Jim Martin and Ed Dowd, who between them have over 40 years of experience in investigative interviews. Both found Ms. Anderson to be very credible in her demeanor and description of the events. There was nothing observed during the interview which indicated that she was being less than fully honest.

The Missouri system will, one presumes, rather quickly implement changes to both policy and practice regarding Title IX; that this will be done without Sasha Menu Courey is and will always be painful and damaging. That's really all I can think to say at this point.

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