Barron forms task force to address sexual violence

Penn State President Eric Barron announced in an email to faculty and staff Wednesday that he has formed a task force to curtail rising on-campus sexual violence across the university.

He also formed a committee to advise the university and its employees on health care decisions.

The decision to form a task force to address sexual violence comes at a time when Penn State is among more than 60 universities under federal investigation for possibly mishandling sexual assault cases. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights began investigating Penn State’s compliance with Title IX, which protects people from sex discrimination, in January.

In 2012, the university received 56 reports of on-campus sex offenses, according to the university’s annual security reports. Only 28 cases were reported in 2010 and 2011 combined.

The Clery Act requires that universities report the data to the Department of Education, which proposed changes to the statute last month. Under the proposed regulation, universities would be required to include incidents of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking in their disclosure of sexual offense statistics to the department.

“We are confident that our investigation and hearing policies at Penn State comply with Title IX, and are fair and reasonable,” Barron said in his email to university employees. “However, I do not believe that we should be satisfied with compliance — instead, we should become a true leader in the prevention of sexual assault and in investigating and adjudicating student-on-student sexual assault cases while best protecting the wishes, and where appropriate and possible, the confidentiality of the survivors.”

Fourteen university employees have been named to the task force, and there will be student representation. Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims will lead the task force.

Barron and Sims did not respond to requests for comment.

Barron formed the Health Care Advisory Committee in response to rising costs of health insurance to the university and its employees.

Senior Vice President of Finance and Business David Gray, who will lead the committee, said his team of 16 will pick up where the Health Care Task Force left off. A report submitted in April by that task force showed that the university’s health care expenditures are projected to have increased by more than 91 percent since 2005.

Keith Crocker, professor of insurance and risk management, chaired the Health Care Task Force and will be a member of the newly formed health care advisory board. He also will provide an overview of the task force’s results in the committee’s first monthly meeting, which Gray said he would like to have in July.

Gray said the committee will assess and advise the university on health care decisions.

“I think it’s fair to say that employees and the university have been hurt by the fast escalating costs of health care,” Gray said. “We’ve experienced that, both the university and its employees, and the university and employees each bare those cost increases. Both parties have felt the pain from the cost escalation of health care from the last few years, and that made this committee an essential need to see how can we make better control of those costs and come up with solutions as employee-friendly as possible.”

Alison Franklin, a graduate student and member of the Student Health Insurance Task Force who will be on the committee, said she plans to relay information from each meeting to other graduate students.

“Being the sole graduate student on the committee, I can’t just look out for myself,” Franklin said. “I have to look out for every graduate student and really be a liaison for the Student Health Advisory Board, but I also want what is best for everyone.”