Posted: May 24, 2012 4:42 PM by Irina Cates (KPAX News)
Updated: May 25, 2012 9:32 AM
MISSOULA- The University of Montana and the Montana Board of Regents are embarking on a road to tackle sexual assault issues involving students. Board members say patience is running thin across the state for resolutions to these issues.
"The tenor of some of the comments from the public has changed-become to me-a little less about the issue, it's more about how we are conducting ourselves and managing the issue," Montana Board of Regents Vice Chair Todd Buchanan said.
Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said that late last year UM President Royce Engstrom invited him to participate in a phone call where Engstrom voiced his concerns about sexual assault rumors on campus.
"From that point, the president said I really feel like I need to look into this and it's going to be a rocky road. And it's going to gain some press and we're going to have some obstacles to clear, but I feel like it's my responsibility to get to the bottom of this," Christian commented.
"So there were 11 cases to begin with-three of those cases have along the way been dismissed for lack of evidence that an assault actually took place. Two of the cases were not pursued because the victim did not wish to pursue the case-resulted in no reliable means of investigating. In one of the cases, the alleged perpetrator fled the country and will not be allowed back into the university," Engstrom explained.
Four cases resulted in sanctions against eight students and one of those students overturned the sanction through an appeal process at the university level. While Christian says everyone wants to see the sexual assault problem fixed, the solution may actually lie in a cultural shift.
"It's going to include change of mind-set and where those mind sets can't be changed, it's going to require a change of personnel, a change of leadership," said Christian.
"The actions of a relatively small number of men on our campus have led to shattered lives of number of women on our campus. We need to keep our focus on where the problem lies and what our goals are," Engstrom pointed out.
Christian says everyone will continue to work and make sure student safety is the first priority.