Feds: University of Montana to change sex-assault policies after review

Story highlights

  • There was a "climate of fear" among female students at Montana, official says
  • University agreements will be a "blueprint for reform," Justice official says
  • Investigations into Missoula police and prosecutor's offices remain open

The University of Montana will overhaul its handling of sexual harassment and assault complaints after a federal probe found "real and significant" problems, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Justice and the Department of Education began investigating the school last year, after allegations that 11 complaints of sexual assault involving students had not been investigated thoroughly because of gender bias.

Settlements with both departments will ensure that future complaints are addressed quickly and fairly and that students who bring them are protected from retaliation, officials said.

"We have worked together to create a blueprint for reform that can serve as a model across this country," Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin told reporters.

Seth Galanter, the head of the Education Department's civil rights office, said those problems created "a climate of fear" on the campus that drove some female students to quit. Austin called the problems "real and significant." But those officials praised the Missoula-based school and its president, Royce Engstrom, for addressing them.

"In the last year-and-a-half, President Engstrom has made several bold and difficult decisions," said Mike Cotter, the U.S. attorney for Montana. Those decisions will change the school's culture and were "absolutely the right thing to do," he said.

The federal investigation began after a university-commissioned review by a Montana Supreme Court justice, Diane Barz. Barz found the school has "a problem of sexual assault on and off campus."

    The Justice Department said it still was investigating the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County attorney's office regarding allegations that they, too, failed to investigate complaints of sexual assault.