- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said Monday that any assertion his university doesn’t take sexual assault seriously enough “is simply not true.”

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the university stating that Tennessee has violated Title IX regulations and created a “hostile sexual environment” through a policy of indifference toward assaults by athletes. Eight unidentified women are plaintiffs.

Cheek said in an email to students, faculty and staff members that he couldn’t specifically address the allegations. But he did say “to claim that we have allowed a culture to exist contrary to our institutional commitment to providing a safe environment for our students or that we do not support those who report sexual assault is just false.

“We are a community, even if we’re not a perfect one, and we hurt when any of our family members hurt or cause pain to others.”

Cheek noted that the lawsuit has led to negative publicity and added that “all of that is very uncomfortable for many of those involved and certainly for those of us who care so much about our community.”

David Randolph Smith, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, declined comment on Cheek’s email.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel first reported about the email.

The suit filed last month in Nashville states Tennessee’s policies made students more vulnerable to sexual assault and says that the school had a “clearly unreasonable response” after incidents that caused the women making complaints to endure additional harassment. The suit also states the university interfered with the disciplinary process to favor male athletes.

The suit also says Tim Rogers, a former vice chancellor for student life, stepped down in 2013 “in protest over the violation of Title IX and the UT administration’s and athletic department’s deliberate indifference to the clear and present danger of sexual assaults by UT athletes.”

An amended complaint filed last month said former Tennessee football player Drae Bowles assisted a woman who said she was raped by two other players and that he was later attacked by teammates and told by coach Butch Jones he had “betrayed the team” before the coach later apologized. Jones has said he would “fight all of these false attacks on my character.”

In his email, Cheek said his administration directed a full independent review of student conduct evaluation procedures in 2013 and that “we are well on our way to implementing virtually all of the recommendations of the independent committee.”

Cheek noted that the university’s police department has assigned a special investigator just to handle sexual assaults and that the university has revised and expanded its sexual assault policy and developed sexual assault response protocols. Cheek also said the school has added a sexual misconduct investigator, a sexual health coordinator and a case manager to its Division of Student Life.

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