Lawmaker: U of M owes public more information about sexual harassment cases

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Yet another sexual misconduct scandal engulfs the University of Minnesota's athletics department.

In its murky wake, a Republican legislator has introduced a new bill demanding greater transparency from the school.

State law currently orders colleges to deliver statistics every year on sexual assault -- but nothing on sexual harassment.

Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth) wants colleges to keep similar statistics for harassment incidents, and report annually the number of complaints investigated, victims who made police reports, prepetrators found responsible, and cases that resolved in discipline. Anderson's bill, introduced this week, would also ask the legislative auditor to review the U's current methods of handling sexual harassment allegations.

"I just think that given what has happened here -- with some of the high profile [cases] recently -- it would be helpful for the legislature to have that information," says Anderson, "so we have proper oversight in making sure that we are protecting the citizens of Minnesota."

A week ago, KSTP reported on a confidential investigation into U athletics fundraiser Randy Handel, who was accused of repeatedly touching, hugging, and making inappropriate comments to a female coworker who found his behavior unsettling, and had asked him to stop.

Handel denied everything, but the U's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) found that the woman's account, as well as witnesses', were more believable than his. KSTP stated in its report that it was a U regent who had shared that information with reporters. 

The U's reaction was apoplectic. The morning after KSTP's broadcast, the Board of Regents launched a probe into the source of the leak, vowing to work with the U's lawyers to conduct a forensic investigation of the digital footprints of everyone who had access to information about Handel's case. All 12 board members signed affidavits stating they shared nothing with media.

The Board also asked KSTP to reveal its source, but reporter Eric Chaloux has refused, saying KSTP regularly relies on confidential sources for its news gathering and must protect their identities.

As for the actual sexual harassment allegations against Handel, the U had little to offer: University president Eric Kaler told the Star Tribune he couldn't speak to the allegations against Handel due to "private personnel matters." (Handel has been on paid leave since last week.)

Evan Lapiska, U spokesman, says the Board of Regents took the leak so seriously because it revealed private information on a fact-finding process that is not yet completed, and therefore shouldn't have been discussed publicly.

Anderson's bill was introduced late in the session in preparation for next year. The legislator says the timing gives House staff and the legislative auditor time to work lay the groundwork in the interim for passing the bill in 2018.

Regarding Anderson's bill, Lapiska says the U is now putting the finishing touches on a new administrative policy of its own on sexual misconduct, which entails record-keeping efforts for both sexual assault and sexual harassment.

"The process engaged students, faculty and staff, and we welcome a dialogue with the Legislature on this important topic," he said.