The Iowa state Board of Regents had their emergency meeting today, in Iowa City, with only one issue on the agenda. The issue was an investigation into the alleged sexual assault at the Hillcrest Residence Hall at the university. The Press-Citizen has the details here. I watched the live feed on the internet and I'd like to hit a few points that struck me.
1) The Board was displeased that the letter from the alleged victim's mother was not made available to them when they formed their original investigation. Regents President David Miles called it a "serious breach of trust".
2) Miles then said that the letter should not only have been provided to the regents, it should have formed a "roadmap" for the investigation itself.
Logic rears its head!
3) University of Iowa President, Sally Mason, then read a prepared statement:
"Let me begin by expressing my profound and sincere regret for the failure to notify you of the letters that came to the University of Iowa from the mother of the UI student who reported being sexually assaulted last fall in Hillcrest Residence Hall. I apologize for this error and for not making certain that the board had access to all information relevant to this case."
"The original thinking that federal law known as FERPA, designed to protect student privacy, prevented the letter from being shared with our Board of Regents leadership is just not tenable. There is no excuse for the failure to turn over those letter as part of the investigation that you directed the Board of Regents office to conduct in the wake of the report of the assault.
I'm not a lawyer, but I do have the Internet and serviceable intellect. The FERPA Law was created to protect a college student's right to to keep their grades private. For Mason to cite this as the reason that they withheld the letter from the regents' investigation is specious, at best, and at worst, a deliberate lie. Citing FERPA as grounds to withhold details of a student's sexual assault is remarkably disingenuous.
"I will make it clear to all member of my administration that our obligation to maintain the privacy of student records should never be interpreted as preventing us from sharing information that you request in pursuit of your governance responsibilities.
"To ensure that you are able to pursue those responsibilities in this particular case, I welcome any additional process that you wish to set in motion. You will have the full cooperation of the UI faculty, staff and administrators. I trust that your further review will show that those involved in this case at the UI worked hard to follow the established policies and procedures under very difficult circumstances. I welcome and look forward to insight that will provide opportunities to improve our policies, processes, and the execution of both.
"Once you have completed your work on this case, I intend to engage independent outside expertise to examine our overall handling of all sexual assault cases. The results will be informed by best practices in higher education, and the expert and his or her findings will be shared with the board. We must, and we will, demonstrate that we continue to be an institution with integrity and with an abhorrence to violence. While we can hope that we will never again have to deal with such tragic and horrific cases, hard experience teaches us that we must be prepared.
Moving forward, she intends to cooperate with the investigation and at the conclusion of the investigation, she's going to use this as a learning experience to do better next time. Based on recent experience, I've little doubt there will be a next time.
"Finally, I offer my heartfelt sympathy to the young woman and her family for the stress, the trauma, and the sense of abandonment that they have expressed. From my observations of this situation throughout, I can say, honestly and sincerely, that many people tried very, very hard to help and be helpful. Good intentions, and even good actions, cannot, however, make up for what has happened."
Sally Mason had the microphone and one chance to finally do the right thing and she failed, miserably. I won't claim to be unbiased, but I also won't remain silent on the closing of her statement. When she said the family's "sense of abandonment that they have expressed", she's acting as though their feelings are unwarranted, as though it's a figment of their imagination that they've been brushed off by the university. Further, her claim that "many people tried very, very hard to help and be helpful" was incredibly insensitive, as though the victim's assault turned out to be a lot of work for the university. She put them in a spot of bother! There were many things happening at the university since the incident occurred, but I see none that were initiated to help the victim. I'm not the victim, or her family, and I won't pretend to know how they feel. I do know how Mason's statement made me feel, and that feeling was revulsion. "Good intentions"? Really?
4) The advisory committee slated to perform the investigation will be headed by former Iowa attorney general, Bonnie Campbell. The investigation is to be concluded by September 18th, 2008.
This is my one hope. When it comes to the rights of victims of violent crime, Bonnie Campbell does not play. The regents are sending a message that, moving forward, they're going to do everything they can to get their questions answered.
One final point that bears mentioning: The Board of Regents does not have subpoena power when conducting an investigation. So, as much as I'm heartened by the fact that Bonnie Campbell is heading this investigation, I'm also not convinced she'll be able to get results. Will she be stonewalled with denials and "I can't recalls"? Time will tell.