University of Minnesota responds to sexual misconduct story

Sébastien Thibault

Sébastien Thibault

One University of Minnesota professor asked a female student: "When are we going to have sex?" 

Another told a woman her dress was "way too sexy," and volunteered what sort of porn he liked. A third engaged in "unwanted touching" and "late-night texting," and had a habit of walking into offices unannounced, then watching the unwitting occupant until his presence was noticed.

A university employee badgered female co-workers for bikini pictures after they returned from warm-weather vacations. Another was heard making "sexual and derogatory comments about female students in the dining hall."

These are just a handful of the disturbing allegations about U of M employees in this week's City Pages cover story, which exposed not only the bad behavior of some men who've worked there, but also what appeared to be a pattern of the U working to resolve cases quietly. 

The story found the university had substantiated 55 accusations of "sexual misconduct" from 2013 through 2017. Of those, 23 employees left or were laid off, meaning their names and the allegations against them are not public. Another nine employees were not disciplined, despite their cases' having been substantiated; these files also remain sealed.

In still other cases, the university will release only heavily redacted documents, leaving the reader to guess about details. 

The smokescreen of privacy around sexual misconduct on college campuses has allowed perpetrators to keep their jobs, without sanction, or find a new one at a different school, starting fresh with no visible black marks on their record. 

Friday morning, the University of Minnesota responded to the story with a statement from Chuck Tombarge, chief public relations officer for the school. Tombarge says behavioral problems of school employees are part of a broader cultural issue, and that the "almighty effort" to make things better "goes beyond University of Minnesota policy." 

Read Tombarge's full statement below.

The problem of sexual misconduct runs deep throughout every arena of American life: politics, the media, Hollywood, religious institutions, corporate America and higher education.
The University of Minnesota is in no way immune to this culture, and unfortunately, despite our prevention efforts, sexual misconduct occurs at the University of Minnesota. When this happens, the University consistently takes prompt and appropriately serious responsive action. It considers the severity, pervasiveness and ongoing impact of the misconduct when determining what corrective actions to take.
We acknowledge the need for continued diligence and an aggressive effort to reinforce the importance of shared accountability and do our part to correct societal issues like victim blaming, of disbelief, of negative stigma, of exploitation and manipulation of power.
We need a complete overhaul of this culture that is so deeply rooted in our society. And that almighty effort goes beyond University of Minnesota policy.
This is why the University of Minnesota President’s Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct is so critical. We are addressing this problem holistically, from the ground up. It starts with every University employee across the system taking an immersive training on preventing sexual misconduct. It includes a public communications campaign. It will consist of in-depth discussions and training at the department level. And it involves constant reevaluation.
We recognize the magnitude of sexual misconduct, we are taking this seriously and we are working hard to build a culture that provides a respectful and safe community for all.