MU curators approve outside review of student suicide

Sasha Menu Courey's death will be investigated by police and an independent counsel.

University of Missouri curators have agreed to hire an outside law firm to review the school's handling of a former varsity swimmer's 2011 suicide.

The nine-member governing board voted late Wednesday to approve system President Tim Wolfe's request for an independent legal inquiry in the case. No firm has been selected, but the university expects a report to be complete for the next Board of Curators meeting on April 11.

University leaders say they didn't learn about the purported attack until after Sasha Menu Courey committed suicide 16 months later. They said they followed the law and didn't have specific knowledge of the incident or a victim to interview. The case has since been referred to Columbia police.

Earlier University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe said Wednesday he wants a system-wide review of how universities handle sexual assaults and mental health.

During a news conference on the MU campus, Wolfe told reporters he wanted to take a comprehensive, data-driven look at the four-campus system's procedures for dealing with sexual assaults. Wolfe said he felt MU met its obligations under Title IX and the Clery Act but admitted that did not mean the existing procedures were adequate.

"We have reporting responsibilities and we fully comply with those reporting responsibilities right now. The question that you pose is, are we reporting enough," he said. "To be determined. That's a great question. I don't know."

Wolfe did not answer specific questions about the alleged sexual assault of former MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey. He deflected those questions because the case is still under investigation by the Columbia Police Department.

The police investigation comes after an ESPN story saying MU did not investigate an assault committed against Courey in February 2010. Courey took her own life in June 2011. ESPN says it obtained numerous records of visits between Courey and campus counselors. A release published Sunday by MU officials says university medical personnel were barred by privacy laws from sharing their conversations with Menu Courey and neither she nor her parents ever requested a formal investigation. Wolfe acknowledged HIPAA may have prevented information sharing but refused to say whether he would lobby for any changes to the law.

"There are very good reasons why you have HIPAA legislation there," he said. "Not only does it protect the patient, but it also protects the healthcare provider."

Wolfe said he wants curators to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the situation, answerable only to the UM Board of Curators. He said that person would have no limit to what they can look into.

"That independent counsel has full rein in terms of looking at everything, including me," he said.

Wolfe said he did not have a specific candidate in mind and would leave that decision up to the board. The system president also refused to say whether ESPN's story was accurate or whether there was a prevailing culture on campus that permitted sexual assaults to go unresolved. He did call sexual assaults on college campuses "a systemic problem across the United States."