Failures led to mishandling sex assault cases

ANCHORAGE — Widespread systemic failures, including the lack of a capable staff, contributed to the University of Alaska Fairbanks mishandling multiple sexual assault cases on campus, according to an independent audit released Friday.

The investigation was conducted by Anchorage attorney Jeffrey Feldman and commissioned by the University of Alaska Board of Regents after five sexual assault cases weren’t properly handled from 2011 to 2014.

The report says the university had a “complete lapse” in student discipline and lagged other institutions in compliance with Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at institutions that receive federal funding.

“UAF’s failures can be attributed to multiple factors, including the lack of an informed and capable staff for a period of time, insufficient allocation of resources to student discipline and Title IX compliance, a lack of oversight by UAF administration, a lack of early guidance and oversight at the statewide level, and UAF’s tendency to handle matters internally,” the report says.

In the five cases, Feldman found the university didn’t initiate a major sanctions process even after determining the sexual assaults had occurred. The report says the university “failed to adequately document reasons for not taking further action in nine other cases.”

Even though discipline wasn’t pursued, the report said the university took immediate action to make sure the victims were safe and supported.

The audit detailed several reasons why discipline wasn’t pursued, including the philosophy of a former dean of students.

The dean’s philosophy “focused on ensuring victim safety and rehabilitation. Once victim safety was ensured, the required disciplinary process was not engaged or completed as it was not perceived as necessary,” the report says. The dean wasn’t named.

Another section detailing how the report was conducted noted that former UAF Dean of Students Donald Foley retired from the university in May 2015 and declined to be interviewed. Attempts to reach Foley for comment Friday weren’t immediately successful.

The report said that “extensive and effective action to assess and remedy the problems” was taken after problems were identified at the Fairbanks campus.

Among the positive actions taken by the university’s Board of Regents and President Jim Johnsen include creating a new position to oversee Title IX compliance at the statewide level and ensuring administrators will be held accountable for any lack of compliance.

“Like many other colleges and universities across the country, some parts of the university were slow to recognize the broad implications of Title IX,” Johnsen said in a prepared statement. “But we are doing the right thing, and taking responsibility when things go wrong. Of course there is more work to be done.”

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