Federal oversight of Utah State will continue longer than anticipated. Here’s why.

A Utah State official confirmed that the 2020 oversight agreement with the Justice Department has been extended — and anticipates it may be extended again.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maverik Stadium at Utah State University in Logan on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. Four years after the university settled with the federal government over mishandling sexual assault allegations, Justice Department oversight of Utah State will continue longer than expected.

Logan • It’s been over four years since Utah State University settled with the Justice Department over the university’s mishandling of sexual assault cases on campus. However, oversight from federal officials of the Cache Valley-area university will remain longer than initially anticipated.

In an email to The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Public Radio on Wednesday, a Utah State spokesperson confirmed the university is still working with the department beyond the dates outlined in the initial February 2020 settlement.

“USU’s agreement with the DOJ was extended in July 2020, due to the impacts of COVID and the release of significant amendments to the Title IX regulations,” said USU marketing and communications Associate Vice President Amanda DeRito in an email. “USU is currently working with the DOJ under this extension and anticipates an additional extension to ensure USU’s prevention and response programs are fully implemented in a durable and lasting way.”

DeRito said Thursday the university expects the extension will be through the next academic year, but a timeline has not yet been put in place.

Initially, the Justice Department planned to monitor the university through the 2022-2023 academic year, and “will not terminate until at least 60 days after the Department has received all reporting related to the 2022-2023 school year,” according to the initial settlement.

And then, during the first summer of the pandemic, university and federal officials agreed to extend the oversight — and on Utah State’s behalf.

“The Department recognizes that, despite the University’s good faith efforts, circumstances outside of its control may render USU unable to meet some of the deadlines set forth in the Settlement Agreement. As a result, USU has requested several time extensions,” the official wrote. “We appreciate the University’s continued communication about its progress toward meeting its obligations.”

That July 2020 extension also said USU would be required to submit a monitoring report as late as January 31, 2024, which stretched the timeline of the initial agreement by one semester.

DeRito said that since the 2020 agreements, Utah State has made significant strides to improve its Title IX office and shore up campus safety.

She pointed to a recent USU survey that found 98% of student respondents said they feel safe on campus. The survey also found 86% of student participants thought university staff respond fairly and appropriately to sexual misconduct allegations. That number is an improvement from when students were surveyed in 2017 — the same year the DOJ began investigating — when 52% of student respondents said they thought Utah State responded appropriately to sexual misconduct allegations.

“The university is proud of this work and remains committed to continued improvement both at a systemic level and a cultural level,” DeRito said in the email.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request to comment on Wednesday and declined to comment on Thursday.

Utah State has seen numerous lawsuits and scandals in recent years. The Justice Department report noted issues within USU’s piano department, sexual assaults taking place on campus and investigators quickly closing assault cases involving football players.

In 2021, after the DOJ issued its report and settled with the university, campus police chief Earl Morris resigned after a recording was released that featured him making derogatory comments toward survivors of sexual assault. The university called the comments, “reprehensible and unacceptable.”

Update, 3:50 p.m. • This story has been updated with a new statement from Utah State about the timeline of the extension.