On March 9, the father of a University of Oregon student reported to Eugene Police that his daughter had been sexually assaulted by three of the school’s basketball players. University officials learned of the report the same day, and learned the names of the athletes under investigation on March 19. The Lane County District Attorney’s office ultimately decided not to charge the men. The university kicked them off the basketball team in early May.
But the fact that campus police didn’t log the reported assault when they first learned of it, or issue a campuswide alert, led Jennifer Freyd, a UO psychology professor, to complain to the U.S. Department of Education that the university violated the Clery Act, which requires U.S. colleges and universities to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses.
Freyd — who has been recognized by the White House for her research on sexual assault on college campuses — contends that the university police should have logged the reported assault back in March. UO President Michael Gottfredson has defended the university’s response.
“In my opinion, at the time, the balance of our interest favored protection of the integrity of the criminal process, and not interfering with a criminal investigation,” he said in a May 4 faculty senate meeting.
Regardless of how the UO thought it was protecting an investigation, they should have instead been thinking about how to protect their students. The Clery Act is in place for a reason. It is not only to hold universities and colleges accountable to criminal activities (alleged or proven) on and around their campuses, but also to keep students safe.
UO may have not violated the act. We don’t know yet. If something happens that in any way affects students negatively while they are in college, the university should be concerned. Students are in college to learn. They are not in college to worry about their safety. The federal government needs to impose serious sanctions on universities that violate the Clery Act. Currently, universities that fail to file under the act can be fined as much as $35,000 per violation, by the U.S. Department of Education, and in some cases they can have federal funds completely withdrawn.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in five women in college are sexually assaulted. The issue is serious enough that the U.S. Department of Education recently announced that 55 institutions — none of them in Oregon — of higher education are “under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.”
With a number that high, it’s about time.
Colleges and universities should be more responsible. Students should be the number one priority, with an emphasis on students’ safety. It’s good that people are starting to pay attention — people who can make a difference on a federal level — but frankly we should be making a difference on our campuses long before we gain federal attention.