The Akron Beacon Journal
Michael Drake, the Ohio State president, described the findings as “shocking and painful to comprehend” in a letter to students, faculty and staff on Friday. He added “horrifying” during a conversation with reporters. He was addressing the damning results of the independent investigation into Richard Strauss, a longtime university physician, now dead, accused of sexually abusing students for years. The university set in motion the investigation a year ago as survivors increasingly came forward with their devastating accounts.
All that they portrayed has proved true. The investigation found that Strauss abused at least 177 male students during his two decades at the university. More, the report concludes the university was aware of complaints about his “sexually abusive treatment” as early as 1979 and did practically nothing in response. Not until 1996 was his behavior “elevated beyond the Athletics Department or Student Health” and disciplinary action taken. Yet he remained a tenured faculty member and upon retirement in 1998 received emeritus status.
This was, as Drake stated, a “fundamental failure.” The report notes that 22 coaches told investigators they were aware of complaints and rumors about Strauss. To its credit, the university has taken some steps to aid the survivors, including a commitment to pay for counseling. Now it must do much more by way of compensation for the harm, especially in moving quickly to a just settlement of the lawsuits it faces.
On Monday, Mike DeWine responded fittingly, saying at a press conference that Ohioans have reason to be “disgusted” and “angered.” The governor called Strauss a “monster.” He also used the moment, and rightly so, to push the agenda forward.
The governor proposed, among other things, the elimination of the statute of limitations for rape, currently 20 years to 25 years. This is something Democrats at the Statehouse long have advocated while encountering little interest from the Republican majorities. Will that change? The governor made the case, in part, by arguing; “If this man (Strauss) was still alive and could not be prosecuted, I think people would be furious.”
DeWine proposed something else helpful. He issued an executive order forming a working group to examine how the State Medical Board conducted its review of the Strauss case. The board received a complaint about Strauss in 1996. In the end, it did not take disciplinary action. The independent investigators gained access to information about the medical board’s assessment, yet related portions included in the final report were redacted, due to requirements for confidentiality unless charges are filed.
The working group won’t be in a position to make public the confidential information. It can take the measure of the board and convey the outlines of the decision-making. This is important for looking at ways to improve the board’s process today.
In recent years, Ohio State and many other universities have improved their regimens for addressing sexual assault and abuse on campus. The findings concerning Richard Strauss reinforce the need for vigilance. Which starts, as the governor emphasized, with a culture that encourages the reporting of incidents and includes an administration committed to responding promptly and fairly, knowing how the damage to young lives can mount.