The chairman of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors ripped into Rolling Stone magazine Friday, saying the magazine unfairly tarnished the school's image with a piece of "drive-by journalism,'' hurt innocent people and set back sex assault prevention efforts.
At a special board meeting on campus, Rector George K. Martin gave his most expansive comments since doubt was cast on a Rolling Stone article that described a culture of sexual violence hiding in plain sight at U.Va.
The article, published last month, described in graphic detail an alleged gang rape at a fraternity house on campus. Its publication set off a frenzy of recriminations at the school, one of the top public universities in the country. U.Va. suspended fraternity activities until January, the Board of Visitors appointed an independent investigator to look into the allegations and the university handed the case over to the Charlottesville police.
But problems with the story became apparent after publication. Many of the students described in the article have since said the magazine's account is misleading and wrong. The magazine has since apologized for what it calls discrepancies.
"Like a neighborhood thrown into chaos by drive-by violence, our tight knit community has experienced the full fury of drive-by journalism in the 21st century,'' Martin said in his opening remarks. "Our great university's reputation has been unfairly tarnished.''
Martin pledged that the campus would not respond in anger, but would continue to work on sex assault prevention efforts and try to learn from the entire episode.
He said Rolling Stone's "catastrophic failure of professionalism'' should "teach us to be less quick to judge.''
U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan said the Rolling Stone article provided the school an opportunity to be a leader in increasing the "culture of reporting'' sexual violence and eliminating the stigma that victims of sexual assault may feel. She said the article had prompted many campus community members to come forward with their own stories of sexual assault.
"We are in the spotlight, so we have the opportunity to lead,'' she said.
She added that while the school's culture was "generally good'' there was room to improve student attitudes on sexuality.
Sullivan updated the board on the school's efforts to combat sexual violence, many of which she stressed had been underway years before the Rolling Stone article was published. Those efforts include trying to curb underage drinking; hiring new investigators and counselors; installing new surveillance cameras and improving lighting around campus; and increasing police patrols near where students live.