Oregon lawmakers propose committee to probe colleges’ responses to sexual misconduct claims

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • This week, a bipartisan group of Oregon lawmakers proposed a new committee that would examine how the state’s universities respond to allegations of sexual misconduct and racial discrimination on campus.
  • The Senate resolution would create an eight-member committee responsible for holding hearings and investigating how schools handle campus misconduct. It would be able to subpoena witnesses and documents and appoint independent investigators to audit institutions.
  • Some federal lawmakers are also pushing for more oversight of how college leaders handle reports of sexual violence on campus.

Dive Insight:

 probe colleges

The proposal comes on the heels of two scandals at Oregon universities stemming from how they addressed sexual misconduct claims. Last month, Oregon Health and Science University agreed to pay $585,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged the university didn’t take action against a former anesthesiology resident accused of sexual assault.

The university issued an apology to the woman who brought the lawsuit. “OHSU recognizes the need to address systemic structures that allow inappropriate and damaging behavior to exist,” it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Linfield University, a small private college in Oregon, recently drew national attention when it fired a tenured professor who accused the school of mishandling complaints of sexual misconduct and anti-Semitism against trustees and the president.

“Recent allegations on Oregon’s campuses underscore that the Legislature has not done enough to hold our universities accountable,” state Sen. Kim Thatcher, who wrote the proposal, told The Oregonian.

Federal lawmakers are also calling for heightened scrutiny of the way colleges handle sexual misconduct complaints. A bipartisan group of legislators reintroduced a bill last week that would require colleges’ top leaders to certify that they have reviewed all reported sexual abuse complaints that involve a campus employee. They also proposed the measure in 2018 and 2019.

Other states are grappling with sexual misconduct scandals within their higher education systems.  Louisiana State University is facing criticism from those who say it didn’t do enough to address sexual harassment allegations brought against former head football coach Les Miles. It’s also under fire for a recent report that identified several errors in how the university addressed sexual misconduct allegations against 10 football players and nonathletes. State senators lambasted university officials at a hearing on the matter in April.

Universities are grappling with the financial repercussions of not adequately responding to sexual violence complaints. The University of Southern California agreed to pay a record $1.1 billion to patients of George Tyndall, a former campus gynecologist charged with sexual assault. Michigan State University likewise settled with victims of Larry Nassar, a former sports doctor at the institution who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing patients, for $500 million.

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