December 3, 2011

University of Illinois reviewing sex abuse policies

12-3-2011 Illinois:

CHAMPAIGN | The University of Illinois is reviewing the policies and educational programs on its three campuses that relate to the prevention of sexual abuse after allegations surfaced of such behavior by coaches at Penn State and Syracuse.

Illinois, experts say, joins universities across the country in taking a look at how schools handle such allegations.

But some school officials say they'll wait to make changes, anticipating potential new laws and government higher education policies that could tighten requirements on the reporting of suspected sexual abuse. And one Illinois lawmaker already has filed legislation that would make such a change.

University President Michael Hogan said Friday at a meeting of university trustees in Springfield that he created a task force to begin the review and determine whether existing policies and procedures are adequate.

"All of us are saddened and shocked by the tragic news from Penn State, regarding the handling of sexual abuse reports dating back several years," Hogan said in a statement. "Immediately after these events came to light, I had a regularly scheduled cabinet meeting and put this on our agenda."

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with the sexual abuse of eight young boys, and allegations surfaced of possible sexual abuse by an assistant basketball coach at Syracuse, Bernie Fine. Sandusky acknowledges he showered with boys but says he never molested them. Fine has called the allegations "patently false."

Other universities either are or soon will be examining their own policies because of those situations, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, an organization that represents university presidents and chancellors.

"I suspect within a year every institution of higher education will do a top-down review of their policies and procedures," Hartle said. "It's very similar to what happened following the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech, when every institution reviewed their policies regarding emergency notification of the campus community."

The University of Georgia this week announced a similar survey and at least some other Illinois universities say they're conducting their own review.

The University of Illinois task force includes a university lawyer and the directors of human resources and the university's Office of Ethics.

Hogan said the group will:

- Inventory state and federal laws and campus policies related to sexual abuse, and look for area where background checks should be conducted but aren't for job applicants, employees and others on the campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago.

- Determine whether the laws and university procedures are consistent with each other and adequate.

- Set up sexual harassment training for all university employees.

- Identify situations that might require extra oversight, such as the many youth sports, band and academic camps held on the university's campuses.

The group will then report back to the president and the trustees who oversee the university.

There's no timeline attached to the work but it shouldn't take long, university spokesman Tom Hardy said.

Illinois universities also conducting reviews include Western Illinois and Southern Illinois, officials at those schools said Friday.

But SIU isn't likely to make any changes right away, spokesman Dave Gross said, because the school anticipates changes in state and federal laws and policies it has to follow on the reporting of crimes such as sexual abuse.

"Officially, our legal counsel is looking at all of our policies and training in regards to this area," Gross said. "(But) any changes in those policies and rules are premature in light of what's likely to come down."

At the state level, one change may already be on the way.

Rep. Dwight Kay filed legislation earlier this month that would add employees of universities and other institutions of higher education to school personnel such as public school teachers and others required by law to report suspected abuse. The change would specify that coaches and their staffs are included.

"The reason that there is a need here for a change is because 'school personnel' has not always been interpreted to apply to colleges and universities," said Kay, a Republican from Glen Carbon. "We need to clean that up." ..Source.. by David Mercer

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