STILLWATER — Policy changes are likely in store for Oklahoma State University, no matter the outcome of an upcoming review of the university's handling of a series of alleged sexual assaults.
Andy Lester, chairman of the Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University and the A&M Colleges, said he expects a regents task force to recommend changes at OSU and the other four institutions the board oversees.
The task force is reviewing university officials' response to reports of sexual assaults involving a now-suspended OSU student. Nathan Cochran, 22, faces four charges of sexual battery for three incidents in which Cochran allegedly targeted male students while they slept.
University officials learned of the assault reports on Nov. 12, but concerns over federal student privacy laws led them not to share this information with police. Instead, they held 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 eventually learned of the alleged assaults through OSU's student newspaper.
The task force was formed last summer in response to the sex abuse scandal at Penn State University. Originally, the committee was assigned to review the board's policies and those of the five institutions it governs, and make changes to prevent a similar situation from arising here.
After the sexual assault reports came to light, OSU President Burns Hargis asked the task force to review the university's handling of the situation, as well.
Even before the allegations came to light, Lester said, the task force was likely to recommend policy changes. For the most part, he said, the policies that are now in force needed little amending. But no policy should be static, he said.
Lester wouldn't elaborate on what those changes would be but said he had originally hoped to have a report ready for the board's Jan. 25 meeting. Now, Lester said, the task force isn't likely to meet that deadline. He said he wouldn't speculate about when the task force's report may be complete.
Attorney is hired to assist
Although variables in each case could cause drastically different outcomes, a similar review into a sexual misconduct case at the University of Iowa took about three months to resolve, said James Sears Bryant, a Dallas-based attorney hired to assist the OSU board during the review.
In 2008, Bryant led an independent investigation into a sexual misconduct case at the University of Iowa, where a female student reported being sexually assaulted by two University of Iowa football players. The woman later was subject to intimidation and retaliation by other student athletes. In the investigation, Bryant reported the university failed to adequately protect the woman from retaliation.
One key difference is that the OSU board had assembled the task force before the allegations surfaced. That wasn't the case at the University of Iowa, he said.
“I think OSU and the regents were ahead of the curve by having this task force in place since the summer and proactively taking a look at the issues and the policies,” he said.
Lester said he didn't learn of the reported sexual assaults until accounts of them appeared in the media. Although he called the alleged sexual assaults “disturbing,” he said he will reserve judgment about OSU's handling of the case until after the review has concluded.
“I have not come to any judgment about whether Oklahoma State officials acted properly or not,” he said. “I certainly hope the answer is yes, but I don't know.