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Report: Oklahoma State University's response to sexual assault reports was 'misguided'

by Silas Allen Modified: February 25, 2013 at 7:26 pm •  Published: February 25, 2013

— The response by officials at Oklahoma State University to a series of sexual assault reports on campus was “misguided,” according to a report from OSU's governing board.

A special counsel's report from the Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University and the A&M Colleges concludes OSU officials misinterpreted the Federal Education Rights Privacy Act in their handling of the case. University officials have claimed the act barred them from calling police after they learned of allegations of sexual assaults.

The report, which was released Monday, concludes the act wouldn't have prevented officials from calling the police immediately after learning about the allegations. However, OSU officials also did not break any law or internal policy by not calling police, according to the report.

In a statement, OSU President Burns Hargis said he appreciated the work of the Board of Regents and the task force that created the report.

“We look forward to quickly implementing policy recommendations that the board approves,” Hargis said. “This administration is fully supportive of any changes and enhancements that will make our campus safer.”

Assault reports

Former OSU student Nathan Cochran, 22, faces four counts of sexual battery in Payne County in connection with three incidents reported as occurring between Nov. 3, 2011, and Aug. 15. Cochran is accused of groping male students while they slept.

University officials learned of the assault reports Nov. 12 but did not contact police, citing concerns about the act, commonly known as FERPA.

Instead, university officials held student conduct hearings resulting in a decision to suspend Cochran from the university for three years beginning with the end of the fall 2012 semester.

Stillwater police opened an investigation Dec. 7, after a reporter from the OSU school newspaper contacted the department with questions about the alleged incidents. That investigation began three and a half weeks after OSU officials became aware of the matter.

The Board of Regents announced in December a task force would review the university's handling of the case at the request of Hargis.

That task force was created last year to review institutional policies in response to the sex abuse scandal at Penn State University.

Friday's report cites a provision in FERPA that allows institutions to contact campus police to ask them to investigate possible crimes on campus. The report notes that members of the news media brought the provision to university officials' attention.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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