UI officials beefing up protection for minors on campus

UI officials beefing up protection for minors on campus

URBANA — University of Illinois officials said Thursday they continue to strengthen protections for children on campus following the release of a report slamming Penn State University's top administrators for covering up sex-abuse allegations against former coach Jerry Sandusky.

Top UI officials were still absorbing the 267-page report but reiterated that policies on sexual harassment and abuse emphasize "zero tolerance" and noted that the university has developed a mandatory sexual-harassment training program. Here is the report.

The UI is also considering a university-wide process for approving any programs involving youths to ensure they follow required procedures.

It is also drafting a plan to educate employees about a new state law requiring them to report suspected abuse of minors to the Department of Children and Family Services.

"Universities are entrusted with our nation's youth, and we are committed to a culture that ensures their safety and well-being, as well as the safety and well-being of everyone who works on or visits our campuses," President Robert Easter said.

The scathing report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh said Joe Paterno and other top Penn State officials hushed up child sex-abuse allegations against Sandusky more than a decade ago for fear of bad publicity, allowing Sandusky to prey on other youngsters. The report was commissioned by Penn State trustees.

The report criticized Penn State's lack of transparency and "cultural reverence for the football program" ingrained at all levels. It said the mind-set at the top trickled all the way down to a school janitor who, afraid for his job, opted to not report sex abuse by Sandusky that he witnessed in a school locker room in 2000.

"I do think that it shows the great responsibility that's placed on each of us when we accept positions in a university," said Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs. "It just makes your heart sick, as a parent, as an administrator at a university, as someone who has taught here."

But she also said the two schools are "very, very different places."

The UI Ethics Office has proven in recent years that employees are not afraid to report activities they believe are problematic, Kaler said, referring to recent investigations of former President Michael Hogan's chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, and grade inflation at the law school. The ethics office offers "complete protection" to anyone reporting suspicious activity, she said.

"I think that really does create a culture where people feel safe and empowered to stand up when they see something they think isn't right," Kaler said.

Maureen Parks, associate vice president for human resources, said the tone is set at the top, by trustees and the president and chancellors, and the trust they place in the ethics office to investigate improprieties.

"I will honestly tell you that I am very, very confident that the tone that we have at the University of Illinois is one of intolerance for this kind of behavior," she said.

Parks said that was true under Hogan, too, "on this topic." Hogan resigned under fire in March following disclosures about Troyer and ongoing concerns about his management style.

"I've been at the university for 12-and-a-half years. Really, on this topic, there's never been any doubt in my mind that the university takes these things very, very seriously, and deals with them appropriately," she said.

When the Penn State scandal broke last winter, the UI launched a review of its relevant policies and training programs to see if they were adequate. The task force was also asked to identify potential cases where background checks might be appropriate and areas that merit extra oversight, such as youth camps. Hogan also asked the UI Office of Human Resources to initiate mandatory sexual-harassment training for all UI employees.

The university is also developing procedures to comply with the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act recently signed by Gov. Pat Quinn. Parks hopes that can be implemented at the beginning of 2013.

Parks said the task force has completed its inventory of activities that involve children and will develop expectations for how those programs should be managed, based on the new policies.

That process turned out to be more complex than anticipated, partly because of the sheer number, from summer sports camps or music and band camps to 4-H activities and youth science programs, Parks said. Some also use volunteers or contract with other agencies to run the programs, raising questions about background checks, she noted.

The task force is exploring whether a university-wide process is needed for colleges or other units to get permission to create programs involving children and certify that they are following university procedures.

Brian Walsh, who oversees 75 sports camps run by the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, said camper safety is a priority. The DIA always conducts background checks on employees hired for the sports camps, which draw about 6,000 youths each year, he said. The UI typically hires 45 to 50 people for the camps, and this year the checks were expanded to all full-time DIA employees, including the head coaches, Walsh said.

"Fortunately, we've never had any problems," he said.

Walsh has heard more questions from parents this year about camper safety and supervision.

"Obviously, it's a hot topic right now," he said. "They want to make sure (they know) who is supervising the kids."

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rsp wrote on July 13, 2012 at 9:07 am

Is there any information about whether they might also review their policies with regards to the Clery Act and how they think their compliance has been? 

Sid Saltfork wrote on July 13, 2012 at 10:07 am

State employees have been required to report suspected chid abuse for years now.  I thought that the university employees across the state were under the same requirement up to now.  If a state employee sees a child alone in a car with the motor running, they are to report it.  If they see a child with visible bruises, they are to question the parents about it.  It seemed obvious that public employees were to report abuse.

rsp wrote on July 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

The Clery Act applies to more than children. All this updating is in response to Penn State and they made one report under the act in years. Every sex crime is to be reported, assaults, being able to go to a school and look up crime statistics. 

Manny L wrote on July 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

It seems that Kaler has now violated the settlement contract with Troyer by her comments.  Kaler is named among several who are prohibited from comment according to the agreement with Troyer. The agreement also indicates that the U of I accepted Troyer's statement indicating she was innocent.  Now Kaler is asserting otherwise.  From a legal perspective this may be very costly to the U of I. 

wayward wrote on July 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

Baloney.  Below is the relevant quote from the article.

The UI Ethics Office has proven in recent years that employees are not afraid to report activities they believe are problematic, Kaler said, referring to recent investigations of former President Michael Hogan's chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, and grade inflation at the law school.

In that case, an employee did indeed report something he found problematic.

rsp wrote on July 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm

No, she didn't comment on Troyer, she commented on how confortable employees are contacting the ethics office. And the UIUC didn't "accept Troyer's statement of innocence", that was Troyer's press release of the agreement. Instead of having a joint release that would have stated the same thing, they released two statements that said the same thing except for the denial of guilt she added to her copy. Otherwise the two copies were the same. But no, the UIUC did not accept her version of events, her denial of culpability. Her leaving stopped the investigation.

Sid Saltfork wrote on July 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Another scandal is coming to the U of I.  It is a "conflict of interest" by another U of I administrator over the $4,600,000.00 contract awarded to BLDD Architects for the Natural History Building.  The Board of Trustees has asked for an investigation.  It involves the administrator's husband's business, BLDD Architects.  You can read about it now in the Chicago papers, and the Springfield paper.  Just when one scandal ends, another one pops up.

Manny L wrote on July 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm

I don't believe you're right.  The settlement contract between the U of I and Troyer indicates that each party accepted the other party's press release and agreed not to comment except for those agreed to statements.  Accepting those statements was part of the contract.  This would mean that the U of I accepted Troyer's statement of not sending the e-mails. This alone is very revealing.  Kaler has commented further and by doing so she has violated the U of I contract with Troyer.  I'll be surprised if the whole agreement is not set aside now.  In addition there is no reason why the U of I can not further investigate Troyer.  There is nothing in the agreement that prevents further investigation of the matter by U of I.  It only requires a gag order on both.  The U of I has violated that part of the agreement.  I find it quite amazing and unethical on the part of the U of I for all of Kaler's claims in the article referencing high ethical standards that she has violated the gag order of the contract.  I'll say that I find the gag order itself problematic and that it's not at all consistent with all the claims of commitment to being transparent.  It just shows that the U of I has no intention of being open and transparent about this matter or others.

wayward wrote on July 13, 2012 at 10:07 pm

I don't believe you're right.  The settlement contract between the U of I and Troyer indicates that each party accepted the other party's press release and agreed not to comment except for those agreed to statements.

Actually, that wasn't exactly what the contract said.  It listed two press releases, one from the university and one from Troyer, and said, "It is the parties' intent that no further press releases will be issued by either party."  It also stated that the university will advise the Board of Trustees and certain administrators not to make defamatory statements about Troyer.  But Kaler's remarks were not a press release, nor do they appear to be defamatory.

Accepting those statements was part of the contract.  This would mean that the U of I accepted Troyer's statement of not sending the e-mails. This alone is very revealing.

Well, if by "accepted," you mean "allowed Troyer to put out a press release claiming that she did not send the emails," that would be accurate, but not particularly revealing.

I'll be surprised if the whole agreement is not set aside now.

I doubt that'll happen.  The agreement was likely the best deal Troyer is going to get.

 

Manny L wrote on July 14, 2012 at 10:07 am

We may disagree, but I see these as clearly defamatory comments and I also believe that whether you say "allowed" or "accepted," the implication is the same.  The U of I has contractually allowed (or accepted) Troyer's statements, is no longer pursuing an investigation of the matter, and she was never found guilty of anything.  She obviously knows a great deal that the U of I does not want exposed.  Kaler may have thoroughly violated the contract now. The U of I agreed to keep this out of the press and Kaler is explicitly named as one banned from public commentary that could be construed as defamatory in that contract.  I'm inclined to think  now that Troyer may be in a position not only to sue Kaler and the U of I but also to expose all that she knows.