Q&A with UO President Schill: A post-settlement look at UO’s handling of sexual assault
University of Oregon President Michael Schill has made it clear he wants the community to move on.
The president released an official statement Tuesday afternoon following the announcement that litigation between the UO and the survivor of an alleged sexual assault involving former UO men’s basketball players had come to an end after 11 months.
The plaintiff — referred to by the pseudonym “Jane Doe” — was awarded $800,000 in the settlement, along with free tuition, housing and fees for the rest of her time as a UO student. Emerald reporter Kenny Jacoby was invited to speak at length with Schill about the aftermath of the legal settlement, Schill’s statement and changes the university will implement to combat and prevent sexual assault under his watch.
Kenny Jacoby: I had a class earlier today, and we had a group discussion about your email. One point you mentioned was that we can no longer afford to debate the incidents. Several students felt very strongly about the issue one way or another, and they interpreted that as an attempt to erase a stain on the university. Is that accurate and is not talking about it the best way to move on?
Michael Schill: I don’t think what I’m suggesting is that we don’t talk about the issue of sexual violence. What we should be talking about as a campus is how we can respect each other, eliminate sexual violence and the need — when sexual violence occurs — to investigate, be fair to both parties and resolve the issue.
Jacoby: What was some of the “swift action” you took when you stepped into office?
Schill: We were already talking about settlement before I came here. There was a significant period of time when we discussed whether we wanted to pursue a settlement. And we did.
What we want to do is make this university the safest university we can and if we’re constantly talking about what happened in the past, we’re taking our eyes off the future. This has been an issue that’s divided the campus. You said it yourself. You were in this class, and people had different viewpoints.
At a certain level, that’s really good. That’s what universities are for, to debate certain issues. When they get to the point where they keep people from acting in a way that is productive, then it’s time to end it and really move forward. We’ve had a long period to discuss what happened, and now is the time to move forward and fix the problem.
Jacoby: You mentioned [in your statement] that you didn’t think any university personnel acted wrongfully. Was the decision to recruit Brandon Austin, who was suspended at a different university for sexual misconduct, a mistake?
Schill: The reason for the settlement was to close the chapter and to move forward. Nothing I say about that matter is going to change anything.
Jacoby: Was the University’s decision to countersue the victim wrong?
Jacoby: What about accessing Jane Doe’s therapy records?
Jacoby: Would you have handled the case differently if you were president at the time it happened?
Schill: It’s always easy to second-guess. Ditto.
Jacoby: What are the changes you’re implementing?
Schill: One of the things we’re doing is hiring a vice president who will also be our Title IX coordinator. That person is going to be in charge soup-to-nuts issues of sexual violence. So for example, [sic] that person will oversee prevention in addition to making sure that complaints of sexual violence are investigated and addressed appropriately.
Now, on the ground, we’ve already hired five new employees to deal with issue of sexual violence. We’re going to hire three more. These are people who do prevention, investigation and address the issues in disciplinary proceedings … We’re investing strongly in bystander programs, SWAT [Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team] and trying to get students to — from the day they come here for orientation until the day they leave — understand the importance of the issue. We’re targeting particular audiences such as fraternities and sororities and athletic programs for additional work. This is something that we care deeply about.
Jacoby: One criticism of the way the university handled the issue was its timeliness. It took a long time for the players to be disciplined accordingly. Do any of the new policies address the speed of the investigation?
Schill: These investigations can have tremendous impacts on the people — both the person who’s filing the complaint as well as the people being investigated. So it is important to get the balance correct between vindication of the complainants’ interests and due process rights of the people being accused. I think we’ve got the balance right by adding additional staff. I think it’s important that we proceed as expeditiously as possible, while at the same time protecting the due process rights of the accused.
Follow Kenny Jacoby on Twitter @KennyJacoby