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Aug 19 2016
by Madeleine Williamson

This Student Newspaper Is Fighting for Access to University Records

By Madeleine Williamson - Aug 19 2016
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Earlier this year, the University of Kentucky’s newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, reported on a professor accused of sexual assault. They requested that the university release details of the investigation. But the school won’t, arguing that they’re protecting the victims and the accused. The state attorney general ordered them to hand over the records. Now the school is suing its newspaper, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported Thursday. The case raises questions about how much information schools should give the press about sexual assault cases.

The Kernel reported that two students filed sexual assault complaints against Professor James D. Harwood. Three other students also filed complaints of “groping and lewd comments.” The university launched an investigation but won’t release its findings to the Kernel. They contend this would traumatize the alleged victims further. It could also affect the reputation of the alleged perpetrator.

“In a handful of very specific cases, we are faced with the decision of whether transparency is more important than the need to protect the privacy and dignity of individual members of our community. It is not,” University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said in a statement.

Editor-in-chief Marjorie Kirk, a senior, disputed Capilouto’s statement. The Kernel never published victims’ names. Victims gave permission to publish the details of their cases, she told the Chronicle. And she feels that the newspaper has a responsibility to protect other students. Harwood leaves the University of Kentucky at the end of this month. Kirk feels that it is the press’ responsibility to hold him accountable.

He "could go on to another university and his future employers would have no idea if we hadn’t been doing these stories. That frustrated the victims — knowing very well they might not be the last to suffer from this," she said.

Federal legislation surrounding sexual assault at universities exists. But no laws make colleges inform each other of such complaints against employees. This can create a lack of accountability as they move among institutions.

"Institutions are uniquely situated — physically and legally — to evade accountability, in part because the law expects them to self-police, to a large extent,” lawyer Wendy Murphy said in an email to the Chronicle.

Lead image credit: rjzii on Flickr Creative Commons.

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Madeleine Williamson - DePaul University

Madeleine Williamson is a freshman at DePaul University majoring in journalism and minoring in political science and Spanish. She loves tea, stationery and exploring her new hometown of Chicago.

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