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Maybe UConn President Susan Herbst should go

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published October 23. 2013 4:00AM

The reaction this week by University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst to allegations that her school has shown "deliberate indifference" to rampant allegations of sexual assault was, at best, puzzling.

I am a woman and I feel safe on campus, Herbst essentially said, in response to the explosive allegations made by seven women, former or current students whom she is supposed to be responsible for.

"I feel like this campus is very safe for women. We have a wonderful police force," the college president told a Connecticut television station, putting a big smiley face on the horrible accounts from the women about the way they were treated by school officials.

The president's sunny remarks followed a press conference Monday featuring some of the women giving first-hand accounts of their experiences.

One said an officer from President Herbst's "wonderful police force" told her that women on campus are going to "have to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter."

UConn allegedly expelled one male student accused of rape, then readmitted him without telling the victim, who said she was subsequently harassed on campus by the same student.

One student reported that she tried to accuse a UConn athlete of sexual assault, but the investigating officer from Herbst's "wonderful police force" didn't believe her.

In addition to the president's see-no-evil, hear-no-evil remarks to the television station, the school issued an official we've-done-nothing-wrong statement Monday.

"We are confident at this point that these cases were handled thoroughly, swiftly, and appropriately," the school said.

Wow. They're confident - confident! - that they got these cases right, even though the full federal discrimination complaints were only filed on Monday.

Couldn't someone at least say they are going to further investigate, have another look-see at what's going on with that "wonderful police force."

Even if the allegations have no substance at all - and it's hard to believe that these seven women made all these stories up - the university has an obligation to at least do some more investigation.

The complaints disclosed Monday are being brought by celebrity civil rights attorney Gloria Allred, who has pursued similar actions at other prominent American schools.

Occidental College recently made an undisclosed settlement with women students, represented by Allred, who made claims similar to those lodged against UConn.

Even if one was prepared to give Herbst a pass on her woeful response to this week's allegations - you have to wonder how she ever got a Ph.D. in communications - it is worrisome that it follows the apparent mishandling of a case of a music professor accused of sexual misconduct.

Robert Miller, the former head of the music department, is under investigation by state police for inappropriate sexual misconduct with young boys and young men. There are also allegations of inappropriate behavior with UConn students.

There are indications that UConn officials knew about some of the complaints as long ago as 2011. The Herbst administration admits to learning of the police probe in February of this year, but did not suspend Miller until police seized his UConn computers in June.

Evidently, the administration was fine with letting Miller continue to work with students, despite the serious allegations, until the police made public their investigation with the seizure of the campus computers. The school suspended him with pay the next day. No more hiding that one.

Miller is still receiving his $135,000 a year UConn salary. Of course Herbst is still earning her $550,000 salary. A $250,000 investigation into how the school handled the Miller allegations, by an out-of-state law firm, is ongoing and the price of that could go up.

The victims represented by Allred could well file lawsuits and that could lead to more draining of the public trough.

It seems to me accountability for the alleged "deliberate indifference" to sexual assault starts at the top.

Herbst needs to understand that it's not about whether she feels safe on campus. It's about whether the young men and women in her charge do. And, apparently, many of them don't.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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