HAVRE, Mont. — Leaders of the Montana University System issued new policies Friday for handling claims of sexual assault, the latest development in a controversy that has led to a federal investigation into whether a college botched its response to rape reports made by female students.
The U.S. Justice Department earlier this month opened a gender-discrimination investigation that looks into the way the University of Montana, its football team and the city of Missoula responded to sexual assault and harassment reports. The federal Education Department's civil rights division opened a similar investigation shortly thereafter.
The university has come under fire as alleged rape victims and authorities have accused officials of mishandling rape investigations over the past two years, including cases involving football players. The football coach and athletic director were fired in March, mostly without explanation, but a cloud still hangs over the program.
The Montana Board of Regents on Friday unanimously approved a new policy aimed at ensuring sex assault complaints are properly handled. The guidelines also seek to ensure compliance with the Montana Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
The board directed each state college to appoint a coordinator to oversee gender equality issues. All employees will be required to undergo training for proper reporting of sexual assaults, and university staff most likely to field such complaints will receive advanced instruction. There are policies aimed at protecting the confidentiality of alleged victims. And the guidelines call for prompt investigation and written conclusion for each case with notification to parties involved.
Key board members made it clear their analysis isn't over.
Board chair Angela McLean said she isn't ready to give University of Montana administrators a voice of support. She said emails from school administrators that will be released as part of an ongoing news media Freedom of Information Act request will help determine whether additional changes are needed.
"We will reserve judgment until we know more," McLean said in an interview with The Associated Press.
There were sweeping allegations of mishandled complaints. "We need to raise the level of transparency to leave no question in the public's mind that we as a system are being 100 percent forthcoming with all we know," McLean said.
"I think the regents have heard loudly and clearly that the citizens across this state, and the students, have lost trust and to a degree faith in the system."
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