University of Montana

April 15, 2014

Summary: In the wake of several sexual abuse cases, most notably in the Catholic Church and in several universities and public schools, a troubling trend has emerged – that these institutions might benefit financially by not reporting allegations of sexual abuse.  There are factors in place that give this assertion credibility.  Whether this is an unintended byproduct of the system in place, or fueled by institutional greed, this is fundamentally wrong; we need to send a strong message to the institutions that our children’s safety is more important than lining their pockets with money.

Earlier this week, a scathing article was written that attacked university officials for playing an active part in covering up allegations of sexual assault, citing that there was monetary benefit for them to ignore allegations instead of confronting them.  Considering that institutional abuse is one of our primary practice areas, this article caught our attention.  The article is well-written and well-researched; the only problem with the article is website that hosts it: Truthout, which is heavily slanted in its pursuit to identify legal and social injustices – this article is one of the more academically-honest articles on their site, and yet it’s written with a clear bias.  Some points in the article don’t directly apply to our practice area, but are used to support main facts that do apply to us.  Despite the bias and a couple questionable sources, the author has valid points that raise serious questions for our institutions; namely, how much emphasis do they really place on student safety if they are more concerned with money?

When private organizations such as colleges, sports teams, churches, or daycares operate, their main objective is to make a profit.  It doesn’t matter what sort of ideology they spew about child safety, education, and preparing their students for the real world – money is the lowest common denominator.  There’s a measure of practicality behind their fiscal incentive, they have nobody else to keep them funded but themselves.  But public organizations such as state universities receive a lot of their money from taxation; theoretically, the issue of money should be less of a priority.  Unfortunately, this is decreasingly the case; public schools receive hefty endowments from boosters – those boosters want to feel like they’re contributing to an honorable cause, like education.  They also want to see that their money is going to a squeaky-clean place, so that they can continue to feel good about contributing money in future donations.  Through the benevolence of sizable donations from corporate or private boosters, this has created a Catch .22; if the institution cares about safety, they’ll report each allegation, which might put them at risk of decreased donations.  On the flip-side, ignorance is bliss to the booster; if the school never reports it, the boosters will never find out…unless of course, it is later discovered.

The American Council of Education (ACE) described six ways to reduce costs of attending school:

–         Decentralization: Advocates believe decentralization brings institutions and communities closer and that it responds quicker than large bureaucracies.  The pundits claim a lack of accountability by decentralized leaders is prone to fraud.

–         Statewide compacts: In cases like this, the state subsidizes certain amenities for the institution; in return the institutions provide more affordable costs of admittance.  This takes away other areas in a community where the money could be used.

–         Public corporations: Introducing corporate into public entities allows the institution to benefit from the competition.

–         Charters/performance contracts: This makes affordability and under-represented students a specific commitment for states and universities, as to allow lower-class citizens to attend prestigious schools.

–         Vouchers: Certificate of funding from the state or federal government that off-set or completely cover costs for public or private institutions; this is especially seen at private schools.

–         Tuition deregulation: This allows the institution to set the cost of admittance to offset operating costs.  The purpose was to have competition drive tuition down… however; tuition has skyrocketed as a result in some universities.

These factors from ACE form the base of the argument that institutions have fiscal incentive in keeping allegations quiet.  It is because there is increased public money invested into public institutions that it would serve to ruin the trust between the institution and the money source if their institution proved to be an unsafe one.  Apparently, the way these institutions deal with the problem is to silence the victim, and make whistleblowers disappear.  In one case at the University of North Carolina, a victim filed a federal complaint about their treatment of abuse survivors; in turn, the university charged the victim with an ‘honor code’ violation for making a hostile environment for the assailant.

The human element in capitalism usually comes second to profit; but this becomes a huge problem in public institutions, who earn their ‘public’ designation by their inability to refuse attendance.  Think about it in this light; it’s cheaper for a school to ignore and eventually settle than it is for them to go through internal investigations and eventually the courts.  In fact, the U.S. Government conducted a cost/benefit analysis on whether it was more cost efficient to prosecute sexual abuses in prison or to do nothing about them – the result does not favor the victim.

At Estey & Bomberger, we categorically disagree that public institutions should be afforded the opportunity to profit by inaction.  Unlike a fine wine, allegations of sexual abuse do not get better with age.  Look at the blowback that resulted from the Penn State University scandal, the Catholic Church, or the University of Montana; these institutions have lost significant trust in their communities for their failure to protect their students or children; each in the interest of fiscal incentive.  In an ideal world, institutions would realize their importance in the community and society and protect their students and children at all costs.  However, it is the greed of men that requires us to practice in this area; somebody has to hold these organizations accountable – somebody has to take charge and keep our children safe.  If not, then the final assertion of this article is true; institutional climate will become hostile to abuse survivors, and they will be the ones to lose.  This is why we will continue our efforts to make institutions pay for shoddy protection of our children; we owe this to our community and clients.


Campus Rape and the Rise of the Academic Industrial Complex

American Council of Education: Shifting Ground: Autonomy, Accountability, and Privatization in Public Higher Education

Decentralization vs. Centralization in New York City Public Schools

Deregulation and higher education


The Meaning of Privatization

University of Texas – Education