The University of Minnesota will conduct an "independent review" of its handling of allegations of sexual assault involving Gophers football players last fall, the head of the Board of Regents announced Friday.

Dean Johnson, the board chairman, said he hopes the review will help settle questions that have been swirling for months around the case, including the decision to discipline several players even though no criminal charges were filed.

"We must take a step back and learn so we can do better," Johnson said Friday.

Johnson said the review will be led by the university's chief auditor, Gail Klatt, with the help of outside experts "as needed." He described it as independent, because Klatt will report directly to the regents.

But another regent, Michael Hsu, said that the U should have hired outside investigators instead. "It just feels like a mistake to me," he said. "Why put ourselves in a situation where people could say, 'Well, that's not truly independent'?"

Hsu said he had been prepared to introduce a resolution calling for an outside investigation, but that there seemed to be little appetite on the board for such a move.

Jim Carter, a onetime Gophers football star who ran unsuccessfully for regent this year, said he, too, was disappointed that the U isn't seeking an outside investigation. "Any thinking person in the community is going to say that the university cannot investigate itself," he said. "And there were plenty of mistakes made."

The university has been both praised and criticized for its handling of the case, which began when a female student accused several Gophers football players of sexually assaulting her at a postgame party in September.

Although no one has been charged with a crime, the university conducted its own investigation and suspended 10 football players from the team in December. Eventually, after exhausting the appeals process, four players were expelled from the university and a fifth was suspended for a year for violating the student code of conduct. Five other accused students were cleared.

Attorney Ryan Pacyga, who represented one of the exonerated players, said, "I hope the university has the courage to honestly examine how it can provide a more thorough and fair process for future accused students." The U, he said, "failed the accused students in that regard."

Johnson said he believes the university followed the rules properly, but that the whole process caught many students, athletes and the public off-guard. Universities are required, for example, to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct and take action, using a lower standard of proof than the criminal courts.

Even some of the regents, Johnson said, wonder if the "messaging" could have been better. "Can we change some of that?" he said. "I don't know. But I know this, that the public has a right to know, in a public institution, what in fact happened."

He said he hopes the review, which is expected to be completed by May, will help "build back any confidence that was torn by the events back in September.

"And if there is something wrong, then we need to be intentional and fix it."

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384