“Like a neighborhood thrown into chaos by drive-by violence, our tightly knit community has experienced the full fury of drive-by journalism in the 21st century,” U-Va. Rector George Keith Martin said at a meeting of the Board of Visitors in Charlottesville.
Martin spoke exactly one month after publication of an article that sent shock waves through the U-Va. community, with its portrayal of a student whose account of a gang rape at a fraternity house was met with official indifference.
In the past two weeks, the article has unraveled, with key elements of the allegation falling into doubt and the magazine’s managing editor apologizing for discrepancies in the account and omissions in its reporting.
In hindsight, Martin said Friday afternoon in a 15-minute address, it was the magazine that showed “callous indifference” to the truth and the consequences of its reporting.
Martin also offered a statement of regret to people at the prestigious public university he said were harmed by the article and its aftermath.
At a Nov. 25 board meeting, the rector had expressed “our collective sorrow” to survivors of sexual assault at the university.
“Let me begin today by expressing our collective sorrow also for the students, the student affairs professionals, the fraternities and the countless others on [campus] who have been wronged — wrongly maligned and traumatized by the Rolling Stone article and the reaction to it,” Martin said Friday. “We are sorry.”
Rolling Stone spokeswoman Melissa Bruno declined to comment on Martin’s remarks.
The article said the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at U-Va. was the scene of the alleged gang rape at a party on Sept. 28, 2012. The fraternity has denied the allegation, saying that no social event was held at the house that weekend. Its house was vandalized after the article was published, and its members were vilified.
Ben Warthen, an attorney who has represented Phi Kappa Psi, also declined to comment Friday on the rector’s remarks.
On Nov. 22, as the uproar over the article was mushrooming, U-Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan announced a suspension of social activities at fraternities and sororities until Jan. 9. National fraternity and sorority advocates in recent days have called on Sullivan to rescind the suspension, but the university has left it in place. Sullivan says she and student leaders of the Greek-letter organizations are working on ways to bolster safety. The campus, known as the Grounds, is largely quiet now as students have finished first-semester exams and have left for winter break.
The board, meeting for the second time since the Rolling Stone article appeared, discussed in closed and open session various issues related to the article and efforts to prevent sexual violence at U-Va. Martin pledged to make public as much as the law allows from an independent counsel’s review of sexual violence issues at the 23,000-student university.
State Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) has named attorneys from the O’Melveny and Myers firm to lead that inquiry.
Sullivan has asked Charlottesville police to investigate the rape allegation, and Police Capt. Gary Pleasants said the investigation is continuing.
At the board meeting, Sullivan outlined steps the university has taken to prevent sexual violence and promote safety in general. She said U-Va. has been attuned to those issues since she took office in 2010, citing, among other actions, a national conference on sexual misconduct the university hosted in February.
Sullivan said she has been struck by the courage of survivors of sexual violence who have told their stories in recent weeks. She said these accounts often date from incidents that occurred in childhood, during high school or at other colleges.
“Or it might be from here,” she told the board. “And then they often add, ‘How can I help?’ And I ask, ‘How can we help you?’ ”
Safety issues at U-Va. intensified after the disappearance in September of sophomore Hannah Graham, whose remains were discovered in October in Albemarle County after a lengthy search. Police believe she was the victim of an abduction and homicide.
University officials told the board that they are spending about $3.5 million for physical safety improvements to the campus, including $1 million on a surveillance-camera system and $2 million on lighting. They also have committed to spending about $2.5 million a year to enhance student counseling, sexual misconduct investigations and other services related to safety.
The bulk of that funding, about $1.6 million a year, will be used to deploy a team of “ambassadors” — unarmed but uniformed — around and near the campus to assist students who might need a ride or other help at any hour.
Board member Frank E. Genovese said individual students bear much of the responsibility for safety issues related to sex and alcohol. “They’ve got to start policing themselves, to a certain extent,” he said.
T. Rees Shapiro contributed to this report.
U-Va. students challenge Rolling Stone account of alleged sexual assault
U-Va. president vows reforms to campus safety, alcohol abuse, fraternities
Key elements of Rolling Stone’s U-Va. gang rape allegations in doubt
U-Va. president cancels D.C. news event
How Rolling Stone failed in its story of alleged rape