This morning the Governor will visit a farm just south of the James Madison University (JMU) campus. While farming best practices are admirable, the safety of students on campus, neglected by the JMU administration in Sarah Butters’ sexual assault case, screams for immediate attention. President Alger deserves a wakeup call.
On Alger’s campus a student may participate in a gang sexual assault of a fellow student, videotape it, publish it on the internet, be accused by the victim then escape any substantive punishment. Following the revelations about JMU’s bumbling enforcement of its own sexual assault policies, the University President, Jonathan R. Alger, withdrew to his comfort zone: acting as his own lawyer rather than campus leader. What was his reaction to McAuliffe’s formation of a task force to combat sexual violence at Virginia colleges?
“For all of us, this is a time to come together, to share best practices, to make clear that we all take this issue very seriously,” said Jonathan R. Alger, president of James Madison University. He said the freshmen now gathering at the school in Harrisonburg are getting the message that they must not be bystanders to sexual assault. – Washington Post
Best practices? Seriously? The message?
In the weeks preceding and following the story breaking on Harrisonburg station WHSV, Alger sent only one e-mail that contained the words “sexual assault” (that only to point his Provost to this link on a University web page) and provided no guidance for the development or implementation of any new or revised sexual assault awareness program(s) on the JMU campus. In fact, based upon the content of his e-mail to Provost Benson, it seems that the University Deans and members of the Academic Council were not included in the development of that “Message from President Alger about student safety” or even aware it. The Dean of Students has been absent from campus for an extended period of time and apparently no one knows when he will return so it seems he has not been available to fill the void. So who has?
Advice to faculty and staff about responding to questions arising from the Sarah Butters case was promulgated by the Associate Vice President for Communications and Marketing, Andrew Perrine. One would hope that the sales department isn’t drafting academic and student misconduct disciplinary policy, but it seems that is the default. Perrine provided the “Senior Leadership Team” a suggested response to questions that might arise. The message:
“Yes, I heard about that. But overall I feel safe at JMU and we all look out for one another. And I know the university takes the issue seriously because there are programs happening all over campus to raise awareness about sexual assault.”
“We” really looked out for Sarah Butters. Those programs are the same ones in place when Butters was assaulted. All the perpetrators were allowed to remain on campus to graduate. And one of the them will still be on campus this semester, some two years after the assault.
Alger is neither convincing nor serious nor a leader at all. Let’s see if the Governor is.