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Board hears report on University response to sexual assault allegations

Law firm investigating 2012 incident detailed in Rolling Stone

<p>In the aftermath of the Rolling Stone article, the administration and the BoV hired a law firm to independently review the case. </p>

In the aftermath of the Rolling Stone article, the administration and the BoV hired a law firm to independently review the case. 

The Board of Visitors heard an oral report last week from O’Melveny and Myers, LLP on the status of their independent review of the University’s response to the 2012 sexual assault detailed in Rolling Stone. The firm is scheduled to release a final written report in early April.

“That review will include an evaluation of whether the University’s response was and is in compliance with the University’s stated policies and procedures, as well as with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations,” University spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said. “The review is fully independent and decisions as to the investigative steps and approaches taken rest solely in the discretion of the firm.”

Attorney General Mark Herring appointed O’Melveny and Myers last November to conduct an outside assessment, which will supplement the investigation released by the Charlottesville Police Department last Monday.

Michael Kelly, director of communications for the Attorney General, said it was important for the University to be aware of its actions in these particular situations.

“It is important that the University community has an accurate picture of what happened and how the University responded,” Kelly said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe established the Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence through Executive Order 25, which was issued in Aug. 2014. The declaration was signed by the presidents of all 16 public colleges and universities in Virginia, including University President Teresa Sullivan, in an effort to end campus sexual violence.

The task force is responsible for recommending practices for preventing sexual violence and examining protocol for helping survivors. It will provide a final report to McAuliffe by June 1, 2015.

While Herring is involved in both the independent review and the task force, Kelly noted the two remain distinct bodies.

“They are two separate issues,” Kelly said. “The task force predates the Rolling Stone article and is more of a holistic look rather than focusing on one report.”

Upon the release of the report, the University will work with the U.S. Department of Education, the Governor’s Office, and the Attorney General to make available any findings that do not violate federal privacy limitations.

Board of Visitors member Frank Atkinson spoke earlier in the semester at a College Republicans meeting on the upcoming release of the O’Melveny and Myers report.

“I’m hopeful all the facts will come out,” Atkinson said. “They will be helpful in understanding what happened and restoring reputation and status. As awful as [the article] was about the culture of UVA, it fed the narrative seen on Law and Order that sometimes colleges are interested in protecting their reputations, so they hush up about things like this. The question is, have we been supportive of survivors and encouraging [them] to go to law enforcement?”

To complement the report, the University has contracted the consulting firm Pepper Hamilton, LLP to receive guidance on the University’s handling of sexual and gender-based harassment and violence complaints. The firm will especially examine reporting cases under federal law under the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, de Bruyn said.

“Pepper Hamilton’s services will include assistance and support regarding new and ongoing Title IX sexual assault reports and cases, implementation of current and proposed Title IX sexual assault policies, protocols involving local law enforcement, an assessment of the University’s policies, procedures and practices with respect to the federal laws,” de Bruyn said.

In addition to the work of O’Melveny and Myers and Pepper Hamilton, the University formed an Ad Hoc Group on University Climate and Culture to explore the policies, practices and organizational structure of safety and security on Grounds.

“The ad hoc group includes three working groups focused on prevention, response and culture,” de Bruyn said. “Progress will be tracked in the short-, medium- and long-term. The work of Pepper Hamilton LLP and the Ad Hoc Group on University Climate and Culture remains ongoing.”