Justice News

Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Roy L. Austin Jr. Speaks at the Press Conference on the Agreements with the University of Montana
Missoula, MT
United States
Thursday, May 9, 2013

When a student enters the University of Montana campus—or any college campus—she has a right to live, learn and thrive in a safe, nurturing environment, regardless of gender.  

Today United States Attorney Michael Cotter and I are pleased to stand with University of Montana President Royce Engstrom to announce agreements with the University, that will transform the campus into a national model of Title IX compliance, and will enable all women to enjoy the full educational benefits of this world class institution.  As a result of these agreements between the Department of Justice, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, and the University of Montana, and the continuing leadership of President Engstrom, the University is putting into place critical reforms to its overall system for responding to and preventing sexual assault.

We began this investigation one year ago, and our focus as to the University was to examine whether it has the necessary systems in place to respond promptly and effectively to allegations of sexual assault and harassment on campus, and has taken the necessary steps to combat and prevent sexual violence and sexual harassment across the University community. This investigation has been a joint effort by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education.

We have covered extraordinary ground in the last year—not only concluding a comprehensive investigation of the University’s response to sexual assault, but also reaching two agreements to remedy the problems we found— this would not have been possible without the cooperation and dedication that the University demonstrated throughout.

What is noteworthy about this announcement today is not the problems our investigation found at the University, but a shared commitment to the equality of women students and their safety. We have worked together to create and implement a blueprint for reform that can serve as a model for campuses across the nation to ensure that women’s educational opportunities are not limited by sexual harassment or sexual assault.

This cooperation is especially appreciated because we know that this has been a difficult moment in the University’s history. There has been controversy and division. We heard from women who lived through sexual assault and were unfairly belittled, disbelieved, or blamed for speaking up about what was done to them and we heard from those who are frustrated that the reputation of the entire University has been harmed by the actions of a small minority of students. We have heard from advocates who have seen the negative consequences of systems failures to address the risk and aftermath of sexual assault and we have heard from University officials working hard and with creativity to put changes in place that will protect women from sexual violence.

The agreement addresses the Title IX and Title IV findings by the Department by requiring that the University:

  • Revise the university’s policies, procedures and investigative practices to provide a grievance procedure that ensures prompt and equitable resolution of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations;
  • Adequately investigate and respond to allegations of retaliation by students who have alleged sexual assault;
  • Take sufficient effective action to fully eliminate a hostile environment based on sex, prevent its recurrence and address its effects;
  • Ensure that the individuals designated to coordinate its Title IX efforts receive adequate training and coordinate these efforts effectively; and
  • Revise the university’s notice of nondiscrimination to adequately inform students that sex discrimination is prohibited.

The university’s separate agreement with the Department of Justice resolving the investigation of the university’s OPS requires that the university:

·          Implement or revise policies, provide training and change practices to improve its response to sexual assault, including combating gender bias;

·          Work with an independent monitor, community-based organizations and other stakeholders, to develop and implement the reforms described in the agreement and to evaluate OPS’ success in effecting meaningful reform;

·          Demonstrate that its implementation of the agreement has eliminated a pattern or practice of constitutional violations and that it has put in place systems and oversight that will prevent patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct from recurring; and

·          Develop procedures for gathering and analyzing data to assess the incidence and outcomes of reports of sexual assault.

President Engstrom has provided forward looking leadership. He has taken problem solving approach and his spirit of cooperation has been especially important. The circumstances that led to this investigation and to the wide-spread public concern long predated his tenure. Yet, he has embraced the need for real and meaningful change and made many tough calls.

His commitment to addressing the concerns on campus regarding sexual assault and its impact on women students is demonstrated by entering into binding, long-term, comprehensive agreements. The implementation of these agreements will improve the safety for women at the University of Montana and ensure that they have equal access to an education.

Together with these agreements, we are also releasing two letters that describe the results of our investigation. The agreements are designed to address the specific concerns we found in our letters.

The problems we found at the University of Montana were real and significant. These concerns, however, are not unique to this campus. The women who are subject to sexual harassment and assault know that without support the devastating consequences for them, their classmates and their community are made all the worse.  Institutions of higher learning across the country must be absolutely tireless in their determination to fully and effectively respond to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment on their campuses involving their students.

As a final note, when we opened the investigation into the University, we also began a careful review of the City of Missoula Police Department and the office of the Missoula County Attorney. Those investigations remain ongoing and we remain hopeful for a comprehensive resolution like we have today with the University.

Updated September 17, 2014