- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are questioning how school officials have responded to reports of sexual assault.

They voiced their concerns Sunday at a forum hosted by interim Chancellor Dana Thomas, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (https://bit.ly/2foXBzM).

Students criticized university policies that allow those accused of sexual assault to return to campus before the case is closed. They also said the university has been lagging in its effort to fill open positions in the Title IX office, which is responsible for investigating sexual misconduct reports.

A sexual assault reported earlier this semester that was rejected for prosecution by the District Attorney’s Office has sparked new discussion about how the university handles such cases.

The new criticism also comes months after an independent audit found that widespread systemic failures within the university were to blame for the mishandling of multiple sexual assault cases on campus. The investigation was conducted by Anchorage attorney Jeffrey Feldman and commissioned by the University of Alaska Board of Regents after five sexual assault cases weren’t properly handled from 2011 to 2014.

Feldman determined that the university had a “lack of an informed and capable staff for a period of time, insufficient allocation of resources to student discipline and Title IX compliance, a lack of oversight by UAF administration, a lack of early guidance and oversight at the statewide level, and UAF’s tendency to handle matters internally,” the April report states.

Thomas told students Sunday that UAF has made improvements, but he acknowledged the school has “further to go.”

Some students told Thomas that they don’t feel safe on campus. He encouraged them to avoid going out alone and to drink responsibly.

Thomas shot down any suggestion that he doesn’t care about student safety. He shared a story from his days as a dorm attendant at the university’s Moore Hall in the 1970s, when there was a rape and murder of an 18-year-old student.

“I knew Jody,” Thomas said of the victim, Jody Stambaugh. “When I hear people say, ‘You don’t care about campus safety,’ nobody cares about campus safety like I care about campus safety.”

Thomas said he has asked University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen to appoint someone to review all aspects of UAF’s process for handling sexual misconduct cases.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com


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