U of M regents defend sex harassment leak probe

University of Minnesota Board of Regents Chair Dean Johnson
University of Minnesota Board of Regents Chair Dean Johnson spoke to the media last week about a KSTP report about a sexual harassment investigation in the U's athletics department. The regents have been criticized for appearing to care more about the leaks investigation than the sexual harassment probe.
Peter Cox | MPR News file

University of Minnesota regents defended their handling of allegations of sexual misconduct involving a top athletics department fundraiser.

"We need to set the record straight," said regents Chair Dean Johnson and Vice Chair David McMillan in a letter to the governor and legislators defending that leak investigation. The letter was dated May 18.

The regents have been criticized for appearing to care more about the leaks investigation than the sexual harassment probe they are overseeing.

The allegations against the U athletics official were first made public by a KSTP-TV report last week. In 2015 former athletic director Norwood Teague resigned after he was accused of sexually harassing employees.

U officials have said little about the most recent incident or the staff member involved in the investigation revealed by KSTP. But regents launched an investigation into how details of the incident got leaked to the media — and even prepared affidavits for regents and staff to sign attesting that they had not leaked a memo detailing the investigation or the U's response.

"Recent conversations in St. Paul leave us concerned that actions taken by the Board of Regents last week have led some to question our resolve to properly respond to complaints of sexual misconduct and prevent misconduct from occurring in the first place," the letter said.

But Johnson and McMillan said the U's reaction to the leak is not the only response to the incident, and that confidentiality and privacy laws prevent regents from offering a more public discussion of the underlying incident.

"We are absolutely committed to preventing and responding strongly to all forms of sexual harassment," the letter said. "We care deeply about the students, faculty and staff who are significantly affected by this type of destructive behavior."

The regents also, however, defended the leak investigation, saying that privacy may be essential for people to report concerns about harassment.

"Individuals that come forward should not have to worry that the details of an incident will be flashed across the 10 o'clock news," the letter said. "These situations can be painful and frustrating enough without an additional concern of public disclosure."

The letter also says the university is about to finish what officials describe as a "system-wide effort to create a new comprehensive policy on sexual misconduct."

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