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Analysis

Western Kentucky University sues own student newspaper for seeking information on sexual assault

Western Kentucky University has taken the outrageous step of initiating a lawsuit against its own student newspaper, the WKU Herald, as well as the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper The Kernel, to block the release of information related to administrators and faculty who were investigated for sexual assault or other misconduct. Both newspapers requested Title IX records of employee sexual misconduct, with the request being rejected by the WKU Administration. WKU then sued The Herald and The Kernel claiming that releasing this information would violate victims’ privacy, even though information about survivors is clearly not what the newspapers are seeking. The state’s Attorney General has also intervened in this dispute.

WKU has conducted twenty investigations into faculty and staff sexual misconduct since 2013. Nine of these cases involved faculty members and eleven were staff. Six of the twenty found a violation of University policy, but all six resigned before the university concluded the investigations and thereby avoided real consequences for their actions.

Even across the state of Kentucky, at least 31 employees who violated sexual misconduct and discrimination policies have kept their job at their public university, according to research by the WKU Herald.

Currently, the court is determining whether the documents pertaining to faculty and administrators who were investigated for sexual assault or other misconduct are able to be protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Warren County Circuit Court Judge Steve Wilson also allowed the case to go into a “period of limited discovery” as requested by the WKU Herald’s lawyer, Mike Abate, saying they need an index detailing why the requested documents submitted to the court had been redacted.

Many students are outraged that the administration never takes real action against the predators, allowing them to resign. This discourages survivors of abuse from reporting what happened to them.

For example, former assistant professor Adrian Switzer was accused of misconduct in 2012 and resigned the next year. A WKU Herald records request revealed that the university allowed him to finish the school year if he limited student interaction and submitted a letter of resignation the following year. The limited interaction being only class times and office hours. Any “credible evidence” that Switzer didn’t limit interaction would be investigated “fully and aggressively”. After his resignation he was hired by University of Missouri-Kansas City. So there was no action taken and Switzer is free to go to other campuses to be around other students.

WKU was able to project an image of safety for students when in reality they allow offenders to continue in their position. The determined organizing of university workers, students and the community, along with independent media outlets, has the power to end this injustice.

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