EDITORIAL: Will OSU Trustees Hear You Now?

In the time it takes you to read this editorial, two women in America will be raped. 

In fact, one in six women in this country can expect to be raped sometime in their lifetime. We’ve all known the numbers are like this, but what’s spurred the outrage at Oregon State University is new, it’s the people reaching a tipping point, and for lack of a better term, they’ve come to the point of enough-ness. 

It’s what the trustees at OSU didn’t grasp when initially putting now-departed President F. King Alexander on probation upon learning he’d covered up sexual assaults at his last job. They didn’t understand that people had had enough. 

This sense of enoughness is also what spurred a movement in the UK after Sarah Everard was abducted and killed in London early last month. 

We believe society is far past due saying enough. We also believe OSU’s trustees don’t yet fully appreciate this shift from the acceptance of bureaucratic incrementalism to a demand for immediate action, but we are hopeful that they can which, in a moment, will bring us to their search for a new president.  

First, however, we should note some of the obstacles impeding the University. 

OSU Hasn’t Been Open to Criticism 

Our reporting in 2017, here, here, and here, revealed OSU was encouraging sexual assault survivors to forgo filing formal complaints and charges, telling them doing so would only be further traumatizing, and that the perpetrator would not likely be found guilty of anything.  We also reported at the time that OSU would only disclose numbers of survivors that ultimately did file a complaint. In essence, they were cooking the books and even now, trying to get numbers from the university is like pulling teeth.  

Responses to our stories from university administrators ran the gamut from defensive and dismissive, to even an attack or two. The people affiliated with the university to approach us with curiosity were the students, some of them survivors.  

Weeks after some of our reporting went out, we started seeing other local media touting the University programs we had outed as part of the problem, which may have seemed like a victory to OSU administrators at the time. But we wonder, was it really, given where we are today? And if the university had seen our coverage as a prompt instead of a problem, would Alexander’s vetting have proceeded differently? 

New Leadership Opportunity 

Alexander’s hiring process was an example of what not to do.  

Trustees should insist their next presidential contenders are at a number of Q&A forums with students, faculty, and audiences throughout the greater community. The candidates should also be available for press. And all of these availabilities need to continue as a condition of employment once a candidate is chosen. We also believe the trustees themselves should be similarly available.  

As no small aside, we would believe that the next president could prove to hold a relatively short term, perhaps someone suited to help the university find new footing. Equally, it could be someone currently in the OSU community, or even someone from outside academia. Given the University’s history, we would be enthusiastic to see a woman appointed, and decidedly someone with a record of activism addressing sexual assault in society. 

At The Advocate, we will certainly pose questions about data being more readily available, and if leadership is regularly meeting with advocates for sexual assault survivors. 

In any event, change is afoot resultant from the pandemic, and even more deeply, from cultural shifts that are long overdue. For the University to keep up, its leadership can no longer be insular