Republican legislative leaders are calling for a public hearing on the University of Connecticut’s policies regarding sexual violence.
State Sen. John McKinney and state Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero sent a letter Thursday to the chairs and ranking members of the General Assembly’s public safety and higher education committee asking for the joint hearing. The request comes just days after several current and former UConn students filed a federal discrimination lawsuit alleging the university failed to protect them from sexual assault – and did not adequately investigate and respond to numerous reported sexual assaults that occurred on campus.
“As a father of two daughters, I find these allegations especially troubling,” McKinney, R-Fairfield, said in a press release. “It is our obligation as a legislature to ensure that state law is being followed and also to determine whether improvements in the law are required to adequately protect victims of sexual assault. As public officials and university administrators, we must work together to ensure our universities enforce a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault.”
In a brief phone interview, McKinney said he was troubled by the reaction of UConn President Susan Herbst. “I personally like President Herbst and I believe in the job she’s doing but…I found her response very defensive and surprisingly dismissive,” McKinney said.
“This is not the time to be protective of the UConn brand. This is a time to make sure every woman on that campus is treated respectfully and fairly…Can this be very damaging to the university’s reputation? The answer’s yes but what worse is the damage to these woman,” McKinney said.
Cafero, who leads the Republican caucus in the House, said a thorough public review of the university’s polices is needed.
“We need a complete airing of these charges of sexual abuse and rape on campus and, just as troubling, UConn’s response to the claims by these young women,” Cafero, R-Norwalk, said in a press release. “We need a complete airing before the public on these matters.”
University Spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said UConn would welcome a public hearing.
“The university would welcome the opportunity to participate in a public hearing on these issues, as well as to discuss our policies and processes that relate to sexual assault prevention and education and the services available to all members of our community who are victims sexual violence or harassment,” Reitz said in an emailed statement.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, a ranking member of the higher education committee, backs the call for a public hearing. “I am deeply troubled by these allegations and that anyone would have to undergo such a terrible experience. My heart goes out to the students that may be affected and hope these young women are getting the help they need,” she said.
Boucher said: “The seriousness of the situation requires immediate response and action to make sure this does not happen again. Proper procedures and strict protocols must be put in place so that our college campuses are made as safe and secure as they possibly can be. Resources must be directed toward a thorough investigation, and I support Sen. McKinney and Rep. Cafero’s call for a public hearing to get these questions answered and to determine how our laws can be strengthened. We have an opportunity to make our policies a model for the rest of the nation.”
Read the complete text of Cafero and McKinney’s letter after the jump.