HELENA — A University of Montana vice president whose emails helped fuel an ongoing controversy over the handling of rapes reported at the Missoula stepped down from that position, the school announced Tuesday.
UM said Jim Foley no longer holds the title of vice president for external relations. He will continue other work for the school for the next year, in a move the school said was perhaps the last cabinet-level change to be made in the wake of a public relations bruising.
Emails released last month show that Foley questioned whether a female student could be punished for speaking publicly about how the school was handling her report of being raped. Foley also urged use of the term “date rape” rather than “gang rape” in a case involving allegations against four Montana football players.
But university President Royce Engstrom did not indicate if the emails were behind the change.
“No specific incident or specific thing caused this change,” Engstrom said in an interview. “This was a mutual discussion, with the direction of the university and the cumulative events over the past couple months, it was time for a change.”
Foley, in a statement, said he is looking forward to the next chapter of his life.
“My family and I are honored by the opportunity to serve the state and the University of Montana these last seven years,” he said.
Retirements were announced earlier this month for chief legal counsel David Aronofsky, who will continue to teach classes at the school, and another vice president, Bob Duringer.
“I don’t anticipate any further cabinet-level announcements at this point,” Engstrom said.
The university said cabinet-level changes were past due anyway, since Engstrom, in his second year, had not appointed his own lead staff.
Foley had been seen accompanying football players to an attorney’s office after an altercation with police, an incident that led Aronofsky to write that such assistance could be seen as seeking or receiving benefits in violation of NCAA rules.
Other changes made include the firing of football coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O’Day. Engstrom has only said that change was needed, although the NCAA has been investigating the program since January for unspecified reasons.
The university said that Foley’s external relations post is being changed to a standard public university communications model to be led by a vice president for integrated communications. A national-level search for that position will be led by journalism Dean Peggy Kuhr.
The school’s handling of sexual assault cases is being investigated by the federal departments of Justice and Education. The UM allegations surfaced in December with reports that two female students were assaulted, possibly after being drugged, by several male students.
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