Questions, confusion at first faculty senate meeting since alleged assault came to light

Oregon president Michael Gottfredson addresses questions from the senate. The Oregon faculty senate held a meeting on Wednesday, May 14 in Lawrence Hall in Eugene, Oregon. (Taylor Wilder/Emerald)

Oregon president Michael Gottfredson addresses questions from the senate. The Oregon faculty senate held a meeting on Wednesday, May 14 in Lawrence Hall in Eugene, Oregon. (Taylor Wilder/Emerald)

Posted by Troy Brynelson on Wednesday, May. 14 at 8:05 pm.

Wednesday’s faculty senate meeting started with remarks from the president as usual, but today’s were stricken with a darker, more concerned tone than typical. This afternoon was the first meeting of the faculty senate since allegations surfaced against three former Oregon men’s basketball players. As remarked by Senate President Margie Paris in the opening minutes, Lawrence 115 was bursting at the seams with both faculty and administrators. Many couldn’t find a seat, and stood for nearly 90 minutes to discuss not only the sexual assault case that swept through Eugene last week but also the pervasiveness of sexual assault on college campuses everywhere.

“No one ever should have to experience sexual violence, harassment or intimidation of any kind,” President Michael Gottfredson said to the packed assembly. “Not one student, not one staff member, not one faculty member, not a single member of our community. Yet too many do … We as a campus have an opportunity to take our anger, to take our energy around this issue and direct it toward a solution.”

Gottfredson’s speech mirrored the one he presented alongside Vice President of Student Affairs Robin Holmes and Athletic Director Rob Mullens last Friday, four days after it was revealed that three players on Oregon’s men’s basketball team were investigated for sexual assault in a graphic, 24-page police report. He invoked his 12-year UC Irvine education in criminology to explain his steadfast assurance that the university did everything it thought was appropriate given the circumstances. The president even went as far as to mention that administration consulted the Eugene Police Department before the basketball team flew off to Las Vegas for the NCAA tournament as to whether the three players should attend. Gottfredson says EPD told them that to do so would alert the players they were being investigated and stall the whole operation.

“In my opinion, at the time, the balance of our interest favored protection of the integrity of the criminal process, and not interfering with a criminal investigation,” Gottfredson said.

The university’s handling of the allegations has left many wondering how transparent the university really is. In response, the president’s office released a timeline of events. The UO Coalition to End Sexual Assault threw two demonstrations within four days of each other outside of Johnson Hall in the past week — the latter coming attached with a list of demands from the UO Coalition to End Sexual Violence — with a third planned for tomorrow at noon. Questions include why there was no entry in the crime log for the case for the University of Oregon Police Department, who first encountered the alleged victim.

“Because we cannot, by law, share many details of this case, some have speculated that we are not acting in the best interest of the university and that student safety has been compromised,” Gottfredson said. “… These assumptions are patently false, and such speculations are very, very inappropriate. We are dealing with highly sensitive and incredibly complex issues concerning people’s lives — our students’ lives.”

The president did announce plans to hire two new staff persons, one being a sexual violence response and support services director that will “provide support and advocacy to survivors.” The other, an equal opportunity specialist and Title IX investigator to ensure proper and thorough reportage of sexual transgressions.

“These hires will improve our prevention and support efforts, and support our goal for the actions of this campus to go beyond those called for by the White House — to lead the way in this charge nationally,” Gottfredson said.

Gottfredson’s remarks lasted nearly 20 minutes, but the question and answer portion ate up another half hour of his time at the podium. Many concerns stemmed from whether or not the faculty had the time or the haste to make marked changes to things that could alleviate concerns over the safety of the campus. Some suggested helping claimants in a sexual assault get university aided legal assistance. Another suggested redrafting the jurisdiction of the student conduct code.

“Right now, our campus is grappling with this issue,” Gottfredson said. “An incident occurred that is incredibly complex and profoundly disturbing. It’s angered many people, including me, and rightfully so — it violates our very sense of who we are as a community of caring people. How we, as a university, go forward from this incident — what we choose to learn from it and how we decide to act upon what we learn — will be a clear representation of who we are and what we stand for.”

Sociology professor Michael Dreiling, who has attended the rallies this week in support of the coalition, plead to the faculty to find solutions alongside the administration rather than pointing fingers. The two sides have often butted heads on how much power the faculty senate actually wields when trying to pass resolutions the administration doesn’t agree with.

“To me, this is a bigger issue and I think all of us need to own it. Not just the administration here. I’m hearing from dear colleagues from all corners of the campus their deep concerns, that this is a sobering moment. This is a very real conversation here with a very real issue that has been magnified by an incident,” professor Dreiling said. “I’m not interested in a resolution that in anyway deflects responsibility … I’m interested in the senate making a bold statement about we as faculty — we as a university — working within our shared governance model to really tackle this … That’s where I put my voice on this. It may be a simple statement: that we have not done enough for this issue.”

The Intercollegiate Athletic Committee, the dysfunctional faculty subcommittee with the most interaction with the athletic department, met for the first time this morning since February. The members passed two motions to put before the senate later this month: One to possibly enact sexual assault awareness classes for all student-athletes, and another to reach out to the “special athletics admits group” — who oversaw Brandon Austin’s transfer — to learn more from their procedures and potentially embed a member of the IAC with them. Austin was linked to a sexual assault at his previous school in Providence, Rhode Island.

Additionally, a resolution proposing a vote of no confidence in Gottfredson, urging the Oregon University System and the incoming Board of Trustees to fire the president did not make today’s agenda. The resolution was sponsored by biology professor Nathan Tublitz. The faculty senate reconvenes on May 28 to further discuss how to address the issue.