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Campus Context

  • Sexual assault gained attention on the campus after reports in the fall of 2011 that two female students had been sexually assaulted, allegedly by football players. The university hired a former state Supreme Court justice to investigate, and the following spring, after she found that the university “appears to have a gap in reporting sexual assaults,” the university system's Board of Regents announced an investigation of several further reports, and the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education began formal reviews.
  • Under public scrutiny for how it handled sexual-assault allegations involving athletes, the university fired its football coach and athletic director in early 2012. A few months later, the institution announced that an administrator who had drawn controversy for an email asking if a female student could have violated the university’s student-conduct code by speaking out about being raped would step down.
  • The institution has affirmed its commitment to victims of sexual assault, collected resources online, held forums on preventing sexual assault, and introduced a mandatory online training program for students (before such training became a federal requirement) on the definitions of sexual assault and consent, as well as tips on bystander intervention and resources for victims.
  • “I want this university to emerge as an institution that recognized a problem and came out as a national leader in addressing that problem,” the university’s president, Royce C. Engstrom, said as the federal investigation was resolved in 2013. “We are on our way.”
  • A book by Jon Krakauer in April 2015 detailed the circumstances surrounding several alleged sexual assaults in Missoula from 2010 to 2012 and chronicled the many failings of local law-enforcement officials in investigating and prosecuting the cases. It focused more on public officials than on administrators, but the author noted how universities are “so willing to abandon the welfare of their students to protect their brand” and to abuse federal student privacy law to avoid accountability.
  • The state of Montana paid $245,000 in February 2016 to settle claims by a former football player who was criminally charged with rape but acquitted in 2013. He argued (and had reportedly drafted a lawsuit alleging) that the university mishandled its investigation, predetermining his guilt and recommending his expulsion, though after an appeal to the state’s commissioner of higher education, the player was not expelled. State officials believe the university acted appropriately but chose not to re-open the high-profile case, a lawyer told the Associated Press.

Cases

Case
Opened:May 4, 2012 - May 9, 2013

Docket: 10-12-6001

  • The unusually high-profile federal investigation took a year to resolve, with the Education and Justice Departments finding a tangle of misguided policies and biased procedures, including "inconsistent and inadequate" definitions of sexual harassment; a student population unaware of or confused about how to report sexual misconduct; and a lengthy grievance process focusing on the accused perpetrator's due-process rights while largely ignoring the rights of the alleged victim. Federal officials denounced Montana’s handling of the issue, recognizing some progress but requiring much more.
  • The settlement, tougher and more precise than those in previous investigations, became a model for subsequent ones. The university agreed, among other things, to hire an "equity consultant"; revise and widely distribute its policies and procedures; provide Title IX training to all faculty and staff members; develop a confidential tracking system for reports of sexual misconduct; create a "resource guide" for students; and conduct focus groups and annual climate surveys to assess students' familiarity and comfort with the grievance process. A separate agreement with the campus public-safety department required a safety and accountability audit, an independent reviewer to monitor progress, and an external review team of sexual-assault experts and advocates to ensure consistency.
  • The new requirements came with a strict timetable, and the general counsel made a spreadsheet to track them.
  • In response to a federal official’s remark that the settlement with Montana served as a “blueprint for colleges and universities across the country to take effective steps to prevent and address sexual assault and harassment on their campuses,” advocates for women’s rights hailed that as important progress, but defenders of free speech raised a furor over what they saw as a redefinition of sexual harassment to mean almost anything.