OSU “Misinterpreted” Federal Privacy Laws, Says Sexual Assault Task Force
A report by a state task force has found that Oklohoma State University “misinterpreted” federal laws regarding privacy, and was “misguided” in their practice of waiting for up to a month before reporting acts of sexual misconduct at the college to the proper authorities.
The scandal came to light in December when the school’s newspaper, The Daily O’Collegian, reported that former FarmHouse fraternity member Nathan Cochran had allegedly committed over 10 sexual assaults on new members. Despite the fact that the allegations had been investigated by the college since November 12th, local authorities were not made aware of the investigation until the article in the The Daily O’Collegian was published on December 7th.
After Cochran was formerly charged with three felony counts of sexual battery, a task force lead by former prosecutor James Sears Bryant was sent to OSU by the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents. The team’s goal was to help establish proper protocols for dealing with incidents of sexual assault in order to prevent any cover-up as well as investigate any misconduct in their handling of the sexual assault allegations.
The report details that OSU was first notified of the assaults by a FarmHouse fraternity member on November 7th. As more fraternity members stepped forward to name Cochran as the alleged perpetrator, OSU began its own hearings to investigate the claims. On November 30th, Cochran was found guilty of sexual misconduct for four out of five assaults, and was subsequently suspended for three years and issued a no-contact order.
Despite being required to do so under the Clery Act, OSU did not dispatch any campus safety reports to students regarding the assaults, and failed to notify the police before the article in the The Daily O’Collegian was published. The report also found that while OSU officials maintain that all victims were made aware that they could contact the police at any time, many do not remember ever being told so.
However, Bryant’s team concluded that no laws were broken, and that the delay in reporting the assaults was not “for any improper purpose.” The report went on to state that “OSU was focused on protecting of all its students, including the victims.” Furthermore, the report found deemed that a misunderstanding of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that was in fact the cause of the delay.
“OSU did not violate any state or federal laws in their handling of the matter, nor did they violate any of their own policies or procedures,” said Bryant. “However, during discussions with the media they incorrectly asserted the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act didn’t allow them to report these alleged incidents until internal hearings were concluded. FERPA clearly allows reporting of potential crimes at any time.”
The task force goes on to recommend the creation of an independent victim’s advocate at OSU, who would report solely to the Board of Regents rather than the university to guarantee that victims are “fully aware of all of his or her rights,” as well as instituting required “reporting to police of all sexual assaults when an institution first learns of their occurance.”
“We look forward to quickly implementing policy recommendations that the board approves,” said OSU President Burns Hargis. “This administration is fully supportive of any changes and enhancements that will make our campus safer.”