The University of Montana must make numerous, comprehensive changes to its sexual assault policies and procedures, under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. The resolution agreement ends a year-long investigation into whether the university and its campus safety department had a systemic problem in responding to sexual assault allegations promptly and effectively.
The resolution agreement -- which officials said was tailored to Montana but should be heeded by other colleges as a model for sexual assault prevention and response -- indicates that the university, while it has made some progress, still must take several steps to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit sex discrimination and sexual assault and harassment in education programs. Those steps include educating students, employees and public safety officers on what constitutes sexual harassment, and how to report it; implementing a system to track sexual harassment complaints from initial report to final resolution; conducting annual student climate surveys and evaluating whether remedies are effective or more changes are needed; ensuring that campus safety officers, as first responders, meet victims’ needs immediately and make sure the justice system is known, open and available to them; and increasing efficiencies in the Office of Public Safety.
Federal officials acknowledged the positive work that Montana has already done. Last summer, it began requiring all students to take a sexual assault tutorial before registering for second-semester classes. The investigation followed nearly a dozen sexual assault reports at Montana, the most high-profile of which (and the one that prompted federal officials to enter the fray) involving athletes, and a university-commissioned report that determined Montana had “a problem” and should be investigated further. The Justice Department is still investigating city law enforcement in Missoula, and encouraged better cooperation between campus and local police.