The author of a bill requiring college and university officials to call police when they learn a student has been sexually assaulted says the bill wasn't prompted by recent events at Oklahoma State University.
But OSU officials “would be wise” to jump on board with the measure, Sen. Tom Ivester said.
Ivester, D-Elk City, said he has been working on the bill since last summer, before a series of sexual assaults at OSU came to light, but the measure would have applied in that case.
The idea for the bill came from a constituent who, in the wake of the sex abuse scandal that rocked Penn State University, was concerned about how college campuses handle sexual assault cases.
Senate Bill 312 would require any employee of any public college or university in the state to notify the police or sheriff in the area when he or she learns of a sexual assault or violent crime involving a student.
The bill also requires schools that have campus police departments to enter into mutual aid agreements with local law enforcement agencies to investigate cases of sexual assault or violent crimes, and requires campus police officers to notify local law enforcement when they learn of cases of sexual assault or violent crime.
Ivester said he has been in contact with Oklahoma higher education leaders, including OSU Vice President and General Counsel Gary Clark, about the proposal.
OSU spokesman Gary Shutt confirmed Clark had discussed the issue with Ivester.
“We regularly discuss campus safety with state leaders, and we appreciate any efforts that support a safe campus environment,” Shutt said.
Former OSU student Nathan Cochran, 22, faces four counts of sexual battery in Payne County involving three incidents occurring between Nov. 3, 2011, and Aug. 15, 2012.
A man told police Cochran groped him while he was asleep Nov. 3, 2011, according to court documents.
A second man told police Cochran groped him on Aug. 15, 2012, while the man was asleep in Cochran's dorm room. The man told police he went to the bathroom and Cochran sent him a series of panicked text messages, according to court documents.
A third victim told police Cochran placed his hands on the man's leg and lower back and tried to place his hands inside the man's pants while the man tried to sleep.
According to the court documents, Cochran told the victim he wanted to know what it was like to be with a man sexually.
Stillwater police have said they think victims could number into the dozens, with incidents occurring on campus, elsewhere in Stillwater and in Tahlequah.
University officials learned of the assault reports Nov. 12, but never contacted police, citing concerns about the Federal Educational Rights Privacy Act, or FERPA. Instead, they held conduct hearings and decided to suspend Cochran from the university for three years beginning with the end of the fall 2012 semester.
Police opened an investigation into the sexual assault cases Dec. 7, after a reporter from the campus newspaper contacted them with questions about the incidents.
That investigation began 3 ½ weeks after OSU officials became aware of the matter.
The Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University and the A&M Colleges announced last month a board task force would review the university's handling of the case at the request of OSU President Burns Hargis.
OSU officials have continued to defend their handling of the case against criticism from a number of quarters, including the Student Press Law Center and the Stillwater Police Department. Ivester said he doesn't think FERPA would have prevented university officials from calling police, as they have claimed.
“I just respectfully disagree,” he said. “My interpretation of FERPA is different than how OSU handled it.”
Ivester said he hopes OSU officials will support the bill, which he thinks would enhance campus safety and allow municipal police to work more easily with campus law enforcement.
“I'm hopeful they'll jump on board with it,” Ivester said. “They would be wise to.”