UT should spend AAU survey funds on its own sexual assault survey

On Monday, the Texan reported that the University will participate in a comprehensive study by the Association of American Universities (AAU) to measure the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. On principle, this decision is a good one, as those of us on campus should know the extent of this horrendous epidemic predominantly affecting young women. Last year, when the federal government released a bombshell report indicting 85 colleges for doing far too little about this issue, UT Austin was not included (though UT Pan American, one of our sister schools, did make the list). Still, the extent of this problem on the 40 Acres needs to be measured in an accurate and comprehensive way.

Accordingly, we believe the AAU survey is not the correct way to do just that. Already, a majority of the member universities of this organization have opted out of the survey, which cost an enormous $87,500, because of concerns over its implementation. These have mainly included the alleged lack of experience in dealing with sexual assault assessment on the part of those who designed the survey. The Texan article noted that critics point to only two experienced members of the advisory committee.

However, perhaps more importantly, we have concerns with the lack of individuality required in the AAU survey. The organization will allow for very limited customization from university to university when it comes to the actual content of the survey. Accordingly, in response to criticisms, the University announced that — most likely by the end of this year — it would commission their own comprehensive survey. This one, with a price tag to be determined, would focus far more substantially on the complex nuances of this campus in particular. We think this survey will provide far more helpful and eye-opening data on the plague of sexual assault around campus.

All this begs the question of, in that case, why the AAU survey is needed in the first place. UT spokesman Gary Susswein was confident, however, that there was “no downside in doing the [AAU] survey.” We disagree.

The University should take the small fortune required to implement the AAU survey and instead invest that money in its own survey. That way, instead of two watered-down products that only tell part of the story, perhaps the University will be able to gauge a more comprehensive and accurate overview of the prevalence of sexual assault here.

Sexual assault is a terrible problem at universities across this country, including this one. A great deal of action needs to be taken to address it, including accurately gauging its prevalence on campus. The best way to do that is by a unique, comprehensive study, not a derided cookie-cutter method being implemented around the country.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this editorial was unclear about the expertise of those who designed the AAU survey. This has been corrected above.