That was my initial reaction to a series of emails written by University of Montana Vice President Jim Foley seeking to discipline a rape victim for speaking publicly about her case, taking issue with the media's use of the term "gang rape" and complaining to Missoula Mayor John Engen when a Missoula police officer wrote a personal email to the university asking officials to take care of the rape problem on campus rather than focusing on defending its actions.

That feeling, was quickly replaced by anger -- toward Foley and a host of other officials whose callous and tone-deaf emails revealed a greater concern for the university's image than for student rape victims or for preventing future rapes.

The emails were unearthed in a public records request filed by the Missoulian and Wall Street Journal, and were detailed in two articles published today and Sunday in the Missoulian -- one about Foley's attempts to punish a rape victim and to minimize the sexual assaults on campus, and another about the Missoula police officer being disciplined for speaking up for the women on campus.

"Is it not a violation of the student code of conduct  for the woman to be publicly talking about the process and providing details about the conclusion," asks Foley in one email to then-Dean of Students Charles Couture. "Help me understand please."

It appears that blaming the rape victim is a tradition alive and well at the University of Montana. Shameful.
In another series of emails, Foley complains about the media describing the alleged rape of one woman by four UM football players and another man as "gang rape."

"Can anybody tell me where UM has used the terms gang rape and football players in any public document the Missoulian would be referencing," he asks.

Foley's preferred term, it seems, is date rape.

To his credit, Couture responds that the term gang rape was used, "because that is what it was."

Other emails referenced in the Missoulian article detail administrators resisting spending $14,000 to bring the national Men Can Stop Rape group to campus, UM President Royce Engstrom's refusal to write about the assaults in his Montanan column, and repeated attempts by administrators to put a positive spin on the situation in communications with parents and alumni.

And when Missoula Police Officer Geoff Curtis wrote to university administrators on his own time and on a personal account, "I am writing to urge you all to stop this spiraling PR mess and take action instead of trying to defend your actions," Foley quickly complained to Mayor Engen. Engen promptly ordered the officer to apologize.

Apologize? Curtis should be rewarded for his commitment to public safety. It's a shame that others in charge at the university and in city hall don't share his dedication to doing something to fix the problem rather than trying to cover it up.

University and city officials are none-too-pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into how local law enforcement handle sexual assault investigations.

Reading these emails, it's clear that such an investigation is necessary.

When covering your ass becomes more important than young women's safety, something is horribly wrong.

UPDATE (5/22/2012): Missoula mayor apologizes for overreaction to police officer's email.