A report on the University of Minnesota’s sexual harassment policies and procedures will await legislators when they return for the 2018 session.
Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said his office will begin a review in the coming months but won’t reinvestigate actual cases. “I decided to conduct the review in response to clear legislative and public concern about how the university is addressing sexual harassment and, specifically, how the university is handling allegations,” Nobles said in a written statement.
Board of Regents Chairman Dean Johnson on Friday was frustrated, saying of Nobles, “Does he have a right to do it? Yes.” But Johnson went on to say repeatedly that the university has zero tolerance on sexual harassment. “The Board of Regents is trying every which way to end this pattern and this culture,” Johnson said.
In the latest incident, a leaked document showed that the university is investigating harassment claims by a co-worker against associate athletic director Randy Handel, a major fundraiser. The woman told investigators that Handel had hugged or touched her more than 40 times over the course of a year — often behind closed doors — and that he continued to do so after she told him she was uncomfortable with his behavior.
“The allegations made are extremely serious and very alarming,” Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday evening.
A bill introduced in the Legislature this week directed Nobles to conduct such a review, but that bill is unlikely to advance at the Capitol before Monday’s scheduled adjournment, according to its sponsor, Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth. She described the bill as a preview of a discussion to come — probably during the 2018 session.
Johnson said he wasn’t upset about the audit, but by the attention focused on the negative. “At the university, we have a process in place, reporting in place,” he said of sexual harassment complaints. “The U has set a standard that’s very good and yet we have some instances that you folks get all excited about. … I’m not talking about people who are hurt or injured. I’m talking about what you folks in the media get all excited about.”
He lamented that 14,000 students are graduating from the U this spring, but the attention isn’t on them.
Annual review in the works
The public outcry over sexual harassment has added to challenges facing U President Eric Kaler, who met with a Board of Regents committee working on his annual evaluation Friday. The meeting, which was closed to the public, will yield a report on the president’s performance for a board meeting in June or July.
Johnson’s comments Friday came a day after he and board Vice Chairman David McMillan sent a letter to all 201 legislators and Dayton trying to assure the policymakers that the regents are more concerned about harassment than leaks to reporters.
The letter responded to published criticism of the regents’ handling of a leaked document that revealed a new claim of sexual harassment involving associate athletic director Randy Handel. A KSTP-TV reporter claimed to have received the document from one of 12 regents. The regents hired outside counsel to investigate the leak. All 12 regents and five staff members signed affidavits saying they had not provided the document to the reporter.
In response, Anderson’s bill would require the U to report all cases of sexual harassment in addition to sexual assaults, which already are required by law.
Bill seeks report by March 1
Nobles, who’s been involved in other high-profile inquiries this year, notably with the board overseeing U.S. Bank Stadium, pointed to Anderson’s bill as a guide for his review.
That bill calls for a “comprehensive review of all sexual harassment policies and procedures” at the U, including compliance with state and federal laws, training and educational programs and procedures for responding to sexual harassment complaints. It called for the report to be provided by March 1 to the Legislative Commission on the Economic Status of Women.
Nobles pointed out that his review “will not be a reinvestigation of the allegations against Mr. Handel, although we will review how the university handled that case.”
Johnson said the regents do the best they can. “Can we find improvements in the way we handle things? I expect we can,” he said, adding, “We constantly are scrutinizing, reviewing our procedures.”
He also called for personal responsibility. “You can have all the programs, all of the laws, but if you don’t have individual responsibility,” bad behavior will occur, he said.
Handel, at the center of the latest allegations first reported by KSTP-TV, has been on paid leave since last week. He denied inappropriate behavior, but the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action determined Handel “created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
Handel was hired by former athletic director Norwood Teague, who resigned in 2015 after sexual harassment claims were made against him by two high-level U employees.
Staff writers Mila Koumpilova and Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report.