New bills would require UMN to report sexual assault and harassment to lawmakers

Two bills would amend how the University approaches instances of sexual assault and harassment in light of past scandals.

The Minnesota State Capitol as seen on May 13, 2015.

Image by Bridget Bennett

The Minnesota State Capitol as seen on May 13, 2015.

by Madeline Deninger

Citing past athletic department scandals, state lawmakers are looking to change how the University of Minnesota approaches sexual assault and harassment cases.

Bills introduced to the House higher education committee would amend how the University reports incidents of sexual misconduct and require the school to notify sexual assault survivors of available legal resources.

The sexual harassment reporting bill, authored by Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, will be heard in the Civil Law and Data Practices Policy committee on Thursday. The measure would take information from a recent report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor on the University’s sexual misconduct policies, which called for the University’s Board of Regents to report data on sexual harassment and assault cases directly to the Legislature.

“I just think it would be helpful to have all of that data to look at how it’s being handled at the University,” Anderson said. “I think given all of the recent news reports over the last … two years, I think it’s helpful for us to understand how the University is managing these issues so that we’re maintaining the integrity of the University.”

Current state law requires all postsecondary institutions to report data on sexual assault to the Office of Higher Education. Under Anderson’s bill, the University would be the only institution required to report sexual assault and harassment data to both the Office of Higher Education and the Legislature.

The bill would require the data to be reported annually, including how many incidents of sexual harassment were reported by students and faculty and any disciplinary proceedings that follow.

University Regent Darrin Rosha said mandates to report such data will help lawmakers and school officials better understand the prevalence of campus sexual assault and harassment.

“Any information the University can provide to the Legislature that can assist it in how to address these problems I think is a good thing,” he said.

Anderson said the data will allow lawmakers to determine if further action is needed to ensure the University handles instances of sexual misconduct properly.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, said recent reports of sexual misconduct at the University have hurt its credibility. He said the University will have to make changes internally to fully address the issue.

“I think that everyone’s looking for a way to [examine] how people have been treated and prevent any future mistreatment,” he said. “In that context, this [bill] could help, but I think there are a lot of other things that are going to have to change.”

Another bill, authored by Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, would amend the sexual assault victims’ rights statute to require higher education institutions to provide information on available legal resources to sexual assault survivors.

Nornes said some institutions may already provide these resources, but this measure would solidify the requirement.