Univ. of Minn's EOAA under scrutiny at Board of Regents meeting

The University of Minnesota's embattled Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office went under the microscope before the Board of Regents Thursday.

The EOAA has been in the spotlight the last few months as the Gophers football sex assault scandal played out in the headlines and the attorneys for the football players have been calling for some big changes.

The EOAA office has several responsibilities, but investigating campus sexual misconduct has become perhaps its most visible obligation.

While Thursday’s panel discussion wasn't specifically about the Gophers scandal, at least one regent wanted some answers about a process the Star Tribune's editorial page recently labeled “a mess.”

"For people who haven't read it, I think it's a pretty harsh assessment of what went on here in terms of how we handled the whole thing,” U of M Regent Michael Hsu said.

Thursday’s Star Tribune editorial was titled, “Lessons to be learned from U football mess.”

Hsu wants answers about a process that so far has recommended four student-athlete expulsions, three of whom have already left the school, and nearly led to a complete boycott of the bowl game by their teammates.

But by law, since the university can't talk EOAA case specific, the panel of regents got only general responses.

“I think these are all complicated and challenging,” Kimberly Hewitt, a representative of the Office of Equity and Diversity, said. “We can't really identify aspects of the investigation process that I feel were not adequate.”

While the U of M is barred from publicly dissecting the Gophers alleged sex assault case, attorneys for the players are free to speak out and they have made it clear that the university's disciplinary process needs an overhaul.

“Any parent ought to be worried if they have a student, whether an athlete or not, about the lack of due process in these proceedings,” Ryan Pacyga said. “The reality is we can do better. These are serious things that need to be looked into. They deserve attention, swift action, but you have to have protections in place for someone being accused of it as well.”

Pacyga, who represents student-athlete Antoine Winfield Junior, complains the investigative and judicial work of the EOAA is unfair.

He explained the accused players weren't able to call certain witnesses, couldn't use a cell phone video of some of the alleged sex, and had several of the young men indefinitely suspended from the team, even though they were eventually cleared by a sexual misconduct subcommittee panel.

As for what comes next in the Gophers case, both sides – the players and the accuser – can appeal last week’s disciplinary findings directly to the university’s provost.

The deadline to appeal is tomorrow.