Deans of law schools discouraged and pressured students not to report sexual assault allegations according to several students


The Daily Montanan takes an in-depth look at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana and the allegations by several students that Dean Paul Kirgis and Associate Dean of Students Sally Weaver, despite being mandatory reporters under the Title IX, urged law students not to report sexual assault to Montana Law.

The school says it eventually looked into the assault allegations with the help of an independent contractor and found no wrongdoing. In light of this and the lack of further enforcement action, we are not going to get into the substance of the underlying claims. For whatever the ultimate merit of these claims, this is a story about How? ‘Or’ What the school responded to calls for help from its students. The deans told the newspaper they had no recollection of dissuading anyone from filing a formal report. The worst part about this answer is that the Deans seem quite believable as far as they really think they haven’t done anything wrong here. And when those charged with protecting students don’t even see how they are eroding these students’ trust in the school, it’s a time of crisis for the whole institution.

A woman told Weaver that her friend who was another law student had been sexually assaulted… and she said Weaver told her that law school would deal with the incident internally. She said Weaver later threatened to report her and her friend to the bar for being vindictive if they didn’t drop the case. She said she felt bad after convincing her friend that a Title IX relationship was not warranted.

Weaver says she never did anything to intimidate students and stop them from filling out reports. “I thought long and hard about anything I could have said that a student might have heard this way, and it just did not happen.” Despite this memory, a student told the newspaper that she was told that if she “continued to harass” the alleged perpetrator, “it would negatively affect her application for admission to the state bar.”

I do believe in the importance of character and sanctity fitness to the profession, but between this story and the stories of last year of bar exam authorities threatening critics with character issues and fitness, it is becoming clear that the process is becoming less of a filter to keep morally challenged people out of the profession and more of a club casually summoned to threaten students with submission. Because even if the administration never used these words, the fact that several students had the impression that it was on the table is a serious problem and a failure on the part of the school.

The friend also told Weaver in early 2020 that she had been sexually assaulted … and Weaver told her she had the training and authority to assess such issues on her own, the student said. at the Daily Montanan. She said the associate dean told her that a report to the Title IX office would be “unnecessary”.

This is not really how mandatory reporting is supposed to work. Weaver said, “I was trained to go slowly, to allow survivors to exercise as much control as possible over the situation, to repeatedly test their understanding.” By placing these accounts side by side, it’s easy to see how the school has failed here without even realizing it. It is one thing not to pressure a traumatized student and another to use a “slow” and “repeated testing” approach that communicates to students that action is unnecessary and that they are probably wrong in their decision-making. own memories. Weaver said she felt like if she had done something wrong, “I think it was because I went too fast, I used terms and concepts that I assumed to wrong that they would understand and I failed to test their understanding, “which not only sounds like the opposite of what the students are saying has happened, but also reflects a disturbing prospect of” blaming the victim “to suggest oh, I was so quick their weak and confused minds must have been wrong.

Meanwhile, a report to Dean Kirgis on the same man resulted in this bizarre tale:

Kirgis told Robichaud he did not believe the incident required a report to the Title IX office, which handles sexual misconduct on campus; nonetheless, he said he would inform Title IX, Robichaud recalled. When the Director of Title IX contacted her, Robichaud said the Director said the Dean did not mention the phrase “sexual assault” in his appeal.

So we’re going to give partial credit because at least the obligatory reporter called the Title IX office in this story, even though it happened as a result of a free communicated objection. But this report is not meant to be: “I don’t know, call this student and let him explain what his market is.”

Robichaud and three other students also said they had reported a classroom management issue to Weaver on several occasions, and they said she told them that a report to the Title IX office would hamper the faculty’s capacity. right to solve the problem. The students told the Daily Montanan that a teacher repeated insults against homosexuals, allowed the class to do the same, and made fun of child sexual abuse.

According to the report, Weaver told the students, “If they want to go to Title IX, they won’t be happy with the outcome. Which might have been true given everything else in this story about the school’s approach to Title IX issues, but that’s not what mandatory reporters are supposed to say out loud.

Administrators say they never failed to report or discouraged anyone from reporting, but the newspaper spoke to 13 current and former law students during its reporting, suggesting otherwise. Regardless of how one analyzes the individual exchanges they all had, it is clear that students repeatedly felt that their concerns did not reach the level of a Title IX problem and that ‘They could face professional consequences if they elevated the problem. outside the law school.

Whether that impression was left out of intentional malice or abject ignorance is not really important. There is a fundamental breakdown here.

UM law students: Dean and associate dean discouraged reports of sexual misconduct [Daily Montanan]

Head shotJoe Patrice is editor-in-chief at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe is also the Managing Director of RPN Executive Search.


Nancy I. Romero

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