U officials deny access to misconduct reports

by Sarah McKenzie

A newspaper’s attempt to gain access to an unedited sexual misconduct report has not been abandoned despite the University’s decision to block access to the investigative findings.
The state Department of Administration, an oversight agency, decided Thursday to issue an advisory opinion even though the University has refused to turn over the 233-page report for review.
Two weeks ago, the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked the agency to determine whether the University violated the state’s Data Practices Act by redacting large portions of the July 6 report.
General Counsel Mark Rotenberg told the agency last week that the University withheld information in the public report to protect the privacy rights of employees, students and victims.
The University has until Monday to respond to the agency’s second request for the investigative findings.
“We believe we appropriately handled the distribution of the reports,” said Bill Donohue, associate general counsel in an interview Thursday. “We had to be faithful to our obligation under the law.”
The University’s internal report documented “a pattern of favoritism” among athletic officials toward student-athletes accused of sexual misconduct.
Names of the individuals involved and descriptions of the incidents were not released in the public version of the report, prompting criticism from local media and witnesses interviewed by the independent investigators.
Eric Jorstad, the Star Tribune’s attorney, said Thursday that the University’s latest action has not changed the newspaper’s position.
“We are certainly disappointed that the University is not submitting the report,” he said.
Rotenberg, away from the University at executive meetings in Duluth, could not be reached for comment.
The agency’s written opinion might not be very meaningful without conducting a review of the sexual misconduct findings, said Don Gemberling, director of information policy analysis for the department.
He added that the University’s decision to blank out portions of the report might be an appropriate decision.
“It really depends on the context,” he said, noting that much of the internal report relies on existing public information and private records.
The independent investigators did not conduct a criminal investigation, therefore the attorneys are not necessarily required to make their findings public, Gemberling said.
The department’s written opinion is not legally binding and is expected to be issued within 90 days.

Victims seek access
The University has also denied access to two alleged victims for the full misconduct report.
Jim Lord, a Chanhassen attorney, said he asked the University on July 13 to provide his clients, Christine Shevchuk and Rebecca Fabunmi, with unredacted portions of the report related to their testimony.
The University denied Lord’s request Monday in a letter.
“The information you request is part of the University’s ongoing active investigation of men’s athletics and remains confidential investigative data,” Rotenberg wrote.
Clem Haskins, former men’s basketball coach, allegedly dissuaded Shevchuk, 25, from contacting the police when former player Courtney James allegedly assaulted her. The two dated during the 1995-96 school year.
Lord said Shevchuk was initially skeptical about contacting investigators with her account of a meeting with officials.
“This was the second time she entrusted her story to the University of Minnesota,” Lord said. “But the way the report is written you can’t tell if they have ignored her story once again.”
Fabunmi, a former tutor for male athletes, also sought access to portions of the report regarding her personal experiences at the University.
The former tutor alleges McKinley Boston, vice president of Student Development and Athletics, tried to get her to change her story when she told him that a football player masturbated in front of her during a tutoring session.
Boston said he believes the report exonerates him from that charge.