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Their lips were sealed

Gazette staff December 26th, 2012

In a move seemingly plucked straight out of Joseph Heller’s classic novel, Catch- 22, Oklahoma State University officials decided the best way to protect victims of sexual assault was to not tell police about those incidents of sexual assault.

Credit: Brad Gregg

Former OSU student Nathan Cochran was arrested Dec. 12 after being charged with three charges of sexual battery for allegedly groping and performing sex acts on other male students as they slept.

One of the victims reported an incident to OSU officials Nov. 12. After a total of five victims came forward, OSU officials handled it in an academic manner by suspending the 22-year-old Cochran.

But the university did not notify police about it. Stillwater police only learned of the case through The Daily O’Collegian, OSU’s student newspaper.

If the university had reported the incidents to police, it apparently would have violated the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA), at least according to university officials with a really weird set of priorities.

Experts on FERPA, however, called a big ol’ BS on that claim.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Virginia-based Student Press Law Center, told The Oklahoman that FERPA allows for a university to report on-campus crimes to police, and wondered whether OSU officials actually believed their own excuses.

Even Stillwater police sounded pissed about OSU’s failure to report Cochran and subsequent statements that he no longer posed a threat to students.

“I would certainly draw the conclusion that one suspect who had sexually assaulted five young men might be considered a threat to other students,” Stillwater Police Capt. Randy Dickerson told The Oklahoman.

OSU President Burns Hargis called for a comprehensive investigation into how the situation was handled.

“Questions remain and we have an obligation to clear up any ambiguity, and if warranted, amend and strengthen our policies and procedures while abiding by federal laws,” Hargis said. “We cannot and do not tolerate sexual misconduct.”

Or, for that matter, embarrassing publicity about sexual misconduct incidents.

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