Wyden questions UO over rape case
Oregon’s senior U.S. senator, Ron Wyden, is demanding more information from the University of Oregon on how it handled a rape allegation leveled last year against one of its basketball players.
An article published in Sports Illustrated last month raised questions about whether the UO followed its own policies on student sexual misconduct after being notified of the allegations against Kavell Bigby-Williams.
In a letter late last week to UO President Michael Schill, Wyden wrote that he was “deeply troubled” by the report, written by UO student and freelance reporter Kenny Jacoby.
“If these reports are accurate, they raise major questions about the university’s commitment to creating and maintaining a safe campus environment,” Wyden wrote.
The assault allegations against Bigby-Williams never resulted in criminal charges in Wyoming, where the incident allegedly occurred in the fall of 2016. The player, who since has transferred from the UO, said the sex with the alleged female victim was consensual.
But the revelation earlier this year that Bigby-Williams continued to play for the Ducks while UO officials knew he was under investigation in Wyoming recalled the specter of the 2014 UO basketball scandal in which a female student accused three Duck basketball players of gang rape. The three male students said the sex was consensual. Despite no criminal charges being brought in that case, because of insufficient evidence, the UO eventually imposed multiyear suspensions on all three players. The university also agreed to pay an $800,000 settlement to the alleged victim.
In the Bigby-Williams case, UO officials said the information that UO police and the university’s Title IX coordinator, Darci Heroy, received from police in Wyoming last fall was “insufficient” to trigger some of the written protocols the UO has for sexual misconduct cases, including the launch of an investigation into whether Bigby-Williams violated the student code of conduct.
The UO maintains that, under its policies, Heroy wasn’t required to notify its director of student conduct and community standards, Sandy Weintraub, so that Heroy and Weintraub together could consider taking emergency action to protect individuals on campus — through a suspension of Bigby-Williams, for example — or launching a formal student-conduct investigation.
Standards of evidence are much lower in university student-conduct investigations than in criminal cases, meaning that violators can face penalties, inclusing expulsion, from the university, even if law enforcement finds no basis for criminal prosecution.
UO officials also have said they didn’t want to override the wishes of the alleged victim, who requested no action against Bigby-Williams.
But the Sports Illustrated report cast doubt on the university’s claims, based on some of the specific language of the UO’s sexual misconduct protocols. Among other things, the SI article argued that, under the UO’s written policies, Heroy should have notified Weintraub about the allegations against Bigby-Williams.
However, a review of those protocols, rewritten after the 2014 scandal, shows that the language gives administrators plenty of leeway in how they respond.
For example, the preamble states that the written protocols should “generally” be followed for sexual misconduct allegations. Also, the protocols also never define what the word “sufficient” means when it comes to the UO determing whether there is “sufficient” information to launch an investigation into a student’s conduct.
In the Bigby-Williams situation, friends of the alleged victim said they believed Bigby-Williams had sexually assaulted the woman. The alleged victim, however, said she was too drunk to remember anything from that night but woke up with vaginal bleeding, soreness and bruising on her neck. Bigby-Williams claimed he had consensual sex with the woman on the night of the alleged rape and previously.
In his letter, Wyden, an alumnus of the UO’s law school, asks UO officials to answer a series of pointed questions by Nov. 20.
They include how university officials determine what information is “sufficient” to trigger its sexual misconduct protocols and what penalties UO employees might face for failing to follow those protocols.
The larger problem, Wyden argued, is that universities say that sexual misconduct policies are best set at the campus level to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
“Yet time and again, colleges and universities demonstrate to policymakers, students, the general public, and especially to victims, that too often they are acting to protect their own self-interests,” he wrote.
UO spokesman Tobin Klinger said Monday that the university will respond to Wyden’s questions.
“As has been said before (in the Bigby-Williams case), the university followed the process as necessary under nuanced and challenging circumstances,” Klinger added. “While we understand that at first glance the selective information provided by the media may appear concerning, we would also respond that the media often does not have the entirety of the information due to privacy laws, which we vigorously enforce.”
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