Stillwater News Press

February 25, 2013

VIDEO: Regents’ inquiry reveals Oklahoma State misunderstood privacy laws

By Russell Hixson
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — An independent investigator determined Oklahoma State University did not break any laws or violate its own policies while investigating sexual complaints against former student Nathan Cochran, but showed a misunderstanding of privacy laws when speaking with the media.

Cochran was charged with four counts of sexual battery after police learned of the complaints and began investigating.

The Board of Regents for the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges employed Dallas attorney James Sears Bryant to advise them during the process. Bryant is from Oklahoma and is a former prosecutor and district judge.

Bryant’s review found OSU’s reporting of sexual assaults at the conclusion of its internal misconduct hearings did not violate state or federal laws. However, Bryant found in public responses to the media university staff misinterpreted federal laws.

“OSU did not violate any state or federal laws in their handling of the matter, nor did they violate any of their own policies or procedures,” Bryant said. “However, during discussions with the media they incorrectly asserted the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act didn’t allow them to report these alleged incidents until internal hearings were concluded. FERPA clearly allows reporting of potential crimes at any time.”

 

The investigation was part of a larger review of policies, practices and procedures ordered last July following the sexual abuse scandal that rocked Penn State University. Some of the most significant recommendations of the task force include requiring each institution to implement policies to protect minors involved with institutionally sponsored activities and programs, as well as activities and programs by third parties that use any property or facility of the institutions. Additionally, the task force adopted two recommendations that were a result of the independent investigation by Bryant that will require each institution to promptly notify appropriate law enforcement officials of any allegations of sexual assault, and to retain an independent advocate for victims of alleged sexual assault.

OSU President Burns Hargis said, “I appreciate the work of the Board of Regents and the task force. We look forward to quickly implementing policy recommendations that the board approves. This administration is fully supportive of any changes and enhancements that will make our campus safer.”