Legislative auditor to examine U's handling of sexual harassment cases

University of Minnesota Board of Regents Chair Dean Johnson
University of Minnesota Board of Regents Chair Dean Johnson speaks with the media May 11 regarding a KSTP report about a sexual harassment investigation in the U's athletics department.
Peter Cox | MPR News file

The state Legislative Auditor will review how the University of Minnesota handles sexual harassment.

The review comes after a KSTP-TV report May 11 that an administrator in the school's athletics department is facing an internal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.

"We clearly want to take a broad review of how cases are handled. Not only this one, but others," said Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles. "Legislators have requested that we do, and I quote from the request, a comprehensive review of all sexual harassment policies and procedures at the University of Minnesota and how the university responds to allegations of sexual harassment."

Nobles said he hopes to begin the review within the next month and a deliver a report to the Legislature by next year, if not earlier.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, introduced a bill asking for the review and more oversight to university processes, including data collection on harassment cases.

"It is our state institution and when things like this happen it reflects poorly upon the entire state," she said. "I think the Legislature has a responsibility to make sure that our institutions are good institutions that are protecting its citizens."

Anderson was also concerned initially with how the Board of Regents responded to the KSTP-TV story by searching for the person who leaked the report.

She says the U assured her they welcome the broader review, which a university spokesman reiterated in a statement Friday afternoon.

"The University works continuously to improve our policies and tracking related to sexual misconduct," wrote spokesman Evan Lapiska. "The University is nearing the conclusion of a system wide effort to create a new administrative policy on sexual misconduct. The process engaged students, faculty and staff, and combines sexual assault and sexual harassment into one policy for a stronger, more consistent approach.

"We welcome the Legislative Auditor's input on this important topic."

Nobles said his office won't re-investigate cases, but they will look at the response and process in cases like the current one and of former Athletic Director Norwood Teague.

After the Teague resignation in August 2015 following reports he sexually harassed two U workers, the university hired a law firm to review harassment allegations within the athletics department.

That review, which was made public in December 2015, said there were a limited number of cases of sexual harassment and the university appropriately addressed them.

Nobles said his upcoming review could include cases that haven't come to light publicly.

"I think legislators want to know how frequently are allegations made, and about what and toward whom? And how are all of those are handled," Nobles said. "We probably only know about the tip of the iceberg. We will certainly want to have a review that looks at the broad range of allegations that come to the university's attention, who handles them, how they handle them and what the results are."

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