Colleges review handling of abuse allegations

Posted: January 16, 2012

As college campuses across the region reopen for the second semester, an issue front and center for many is making sure their schools are protected from having a child sex-abuse scandal like the one that rocked Penn State to its core last fall.

Area colleges reported that they were reviewing their policies, providing training to employees on handling complaints of abuse, and reinforcing laws and procedures that require employees to report abuse.

Their work comes as Penn State continues to cope with the aftermath of the scandal involving child sexual-abuse allegations against its former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Both Penn State's former president Graham B. Spanier and iconic football coach Joe Paterno lost their jobs in the fallout as the university's board of trustees questioned why problems stemming back to an alleged eyewitness report in 2002 were not dealt with earlier.

"Anything like this that happens on one campus causes all of us to reconsider how we would handle something like that or how we're handling things to prevent something like that," said Sharon Latchaw Hirsh, president of Rosemont College. "It was something that you really couldn't ignore."

Hirsh said Rosemont has been in touch by e-mail with several universities, and they are collectively looking at their policies. Rosemont declined to release the names of the other universities, saying they requested not to be identified.

"One main thing [they discussed] was that most of us bring in some auxiliary revenue by hosting different vendors on campus over the summer," Hirsh said, "and in a lot of cases that is a group that works with" minors.

Rosemont, for example, hosts both a tennis camp and a computer camp for children, she said.

The college is making sure that anyone renting Rosemont facilities knows they must abide by college policies and regulations, she said. The policy also extends to board members, alumni, and others while they are on campus, she said.

"We're saying, 'When you're on Rosemont's campus, you are held to the same standard,' " she said.

Temple University also hosts a number of camps for youngsters over the summer and has reviewed its policies to be sure safeguards are in place, spokesman Ray Betzner said.

The university has given some additional training to athletic coaches on school policies, he added.

Some other universities, including Ursinus in Collegeville, reported that they were reviewing their policies and protocols in dealing with sexual misconduct and abuse.

The board of trustees at Widener University in Chester plans to discuss the issue at its meeting in late February, spokesman Dan Hanson said.

Some schools issued memos when the controversy was at its height.

Bucknell University president John Bravman, along with the school's general counsel and the chief of public safety, in November sent out a letter to staff members, reminding them of their duties. They were advised to put in an e-mail any criminal activity or misconduct so there is a written record. And they were reminded that state law requires employees to report any case in which a minor may have been abused by an adult.

The Lewisburg-based university also has an ethics hotline and a safety tip line where problems can be reported anonymously.

"As faculty and staff of the university, we all have a moral and a legal obligation to protect this campus, to protect our guests, and to protect one another from harm," the letter said.

More than 60 employees at Gwynedd-Mercy College in Gwynedd Valley


 received a training session on reporting crime from lawyers brought in by the college in November. The session already had been scheduled as part of the college's ongoing training before the Penn State scandal broke, said Cheryl Horsey, vice president for enrollment and student services. It was largely to review the handling of sexual-harassment complaints, she said.

"Because of what happened at Penn State," she said, "we extended that to talk about the need to report anything that goes on that we feel might be suspect."

Chestnut Hill College has asked attorneys to review its policies concerning minors on campus, president Carol Jean Vale said.

"We're looking to see if there is anything we need to change or strengthen," she said.

She also issued stern advice to faculty at a meeting shortly after news of the Penn State allegations broke.

"I took the opportunity to say to the entire college community that I would expect them to report any situation of that nature immediately to the administration," she said, "and if the administration did not handle it, it was their duty to go to the police and report it."


 


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

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