The University of Virginia was under the microscope for its handling of sexual assault cases long before Rolling Stone magazine weighed in with the account of a student who said she was gang-raped at a fraternity house.
The emergence of fresh questions about that account — including the fraternity issuing a rebuttal, doubts voiced by some who know the woman, and a statement from Rolling Stone’s managing editor on Friday acknowledging “discrepancies” in her version of events — will not suddenly cancel that scrutiny.
A federal investigation of U-Va.’s response to sexual violence, begun in June 2011, continues. It is one of the longest-running active probes of its kind in the nation. U-Va. remains one of the most prominent of about 90 colleges and universities facing such investigations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Student and faculty activists for sexual assault prevention, given a national platform in recent days, are unlikely to let the issue fade away. Skeptics will still wonder why the university has not expelled anyone for sexual misconduct in the past decade. Parents of prospective applicants, also mindful of the slaying of sophomore Hannah Graham after she disappeared in September, still want assurances that the Charlottesville campus is safe.
Perhaps most important, University President Teresa A. Sullivan laid out a detailed road map this week for a comprehensive review of the campus culture, touching on sexual assault, alcohol, Greek life and university oversight.
“Now our university has been placed at the center of this crisis,” Sullivan said Monday, speaking of rape. “We will not shrink from it. We will lead. I will make periodic reports to the community on what we are doing, and you can hold me accountable for our efforts.”
With Sullivan and U-Va.’s governing Board of Visitors on record with pledges for reform, it would be difficult for the university leadership to abandon them.
U-Va. had no immediate comment on Friday’s developments. Telephone and e-mail messages left with Rector George Keith Martin, leader of the governing board, were not returned.
Federal statistics show the rising salience of the issue at U-Va. There were 27 reports of forcible sex offenses on the campus known as the Grounds in 2013, up from 11 the year before. Experts say it is generally a positive sign when reports of sex offenses rise at a school. That means victims feel comfortable stepping forward, and the issue is not getting buried.
No one can say the issue is buried at U-Va. It remains front and center.
That doesn’t mean that the university won’t face criticism from within and without. Key tests lie ahead as the federal government continues its investigation, as an independent counsel advises the governing board, and as Sullivan weighs what to do after a suspension of activities at fraternities and sororities is scheduled to end on Jan. 9.