Department of Education launches Title IX probe against College

by Taylor Malmsheimer | 7/22/13 10:00pm

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has initiated a compliance review of the College for Title IX violations, Bloomberg first reported yesterday.

The investigation, which was not initiated by a complaint, relates to sexual harassment grievance procedures, the College's response to sexual harassment claims and the designation and notice of a Title IX coordinator, Department of Education press officer Jane Glickman said in a statement.

The investigation began in May and the College was informed on May 28. The Department of Education will review the College's sexual harassment and assault policies and practices during the investigation, Dartmouth general counsel Robert Donin said.

College spokesperson Justin Anderson said the general counsel's office has been in touch with the Department of Education, answering questions and finding individuals at the College who can best respond to specific queries.

"We will try to demonstrate that we have a process and that the process is fair and sound," Anderson said. "We will also try to demonstrate that we have been diligent in recent years to reduce incidents on campus, to create a climate of reporting and to support all students who come forward to report sexual harassment or assault."

Dartmouth students filed a Clery Act complaint against the College in late May that included accounts from more than 30 students and alumni. Alleged violations included sexual assault, gender-based, racial and religious discrimination, hate crimes, bullying and hazing at the College.

Although complainants were interested in pursuing a Title IX case, they chose to file a Clery Act complaint instead, as it was easier to file and addressed issues beyond gender-based sexual violence, said Andrea Pino, a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Pino is an advisor to Dartmouth complainants and a named complainant on a pending Title IX investigation against her university.

Dartmouth's Clery Act complaint also addressed harassment and hazing at the College. Many schools, including Chapel Hill, have filed both complaints, although not at the same time.

Student activists and faculty complainants from Occidental College and Swarthmore College, which have both received these complaints, said in May that they expected Dartmouth alumni and students to file a Title IX complaint against the College in the near future.

In May, Swarthmore rising junior Mia Ferguson said she thought that acts of discrimination and hatred occurring at Dartmouth would prompt a Title IX complaint against the College.

Pino said she was surprised the Department of Education decided to pursue its own Title IX investigation instead of taking up the Clery Act complaint it received from Dartmouth students and alumni.

"This isn't the end for Dartmouth. It's only going to get bigger," Pino said."This is the largest influx of complaints the D.O.E. has received in its history. The momentum is building around the problems on college campuses."

Anderson said the College is working together with the compliance review.

"We will cooperate with them to demonstrate that we have a process for handling complaints and that it is fair and supportive and always incorporates the best practices," he said.

Anderson said in a statement that recent efforts to reduce sexual assault on campus include education, increased accountability, staffing and coordination.

In February, the Greek Leadership Council voted unanimously to pass a sexual assault policy that places uniform sanctions on individuals found responsible for sexual misconduct. On July 15, the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault released recommendations to combat sexual assault at the College in a campus-wide email.

To prevent a loss of federal funding, the ultimate penalty facing institutions found in violation of Title IX, universities under investigation can enter a voluntary resolution agreement, stating their commitment to extensive procedural and policy reforms.

Federal funding could include federal financial aid, said Erin Buzuvis, a professor at the Western New England University School of Law and a cofounder of Title IX Blog, which chronicles cases and news related to Title IX.

The penalty has not been enacted since Congress passed the law in 1972.

The Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation of Yale University's sexual climate in 2011 and came to a voluntary resolution agreement with the university last June. Yale agreed to uphold its newly implemented grievance procedures and inform its community about available resources for sexual misconduct. The university did not face disciplinary action, but is required to report to the Office until next May.

In 2012, the Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the University of Montana-Missoula's handling of sexual assault, as well as its related policies, procedures, training and student education efforts. In May, the university came to a comprehensive resolution agreement with the federal offices, agreeing to swiftly respond to allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

Investigations at other universities, such as Occidental College, Swarthmore and the University of North Carolina, are ongoing.

Although Title IX violations have not resulted in monetary punishment, the Department of Education has fined institutions for Clery Act violations. In 2010, the department investigated an allegation that Eastern Michigan University had attempted to cover up the rape of a student when the university falsely reported that her death did not involve foul play. Eastern Michigan was fined $350,000 for violation of the Clery Act, but came to a resolution agreement with the department regarding its Title IX violations.

Pino said she hopes the media attention of a federal investigation and the threat of losing funding will prompt increased action from Dartmouth's administration to reduce campus violence.

"Campus rape is a national epidemic," she said. "We want colleges to enforce the laws that are supposed to protect us."

Pino added that she hopes the investigation will include nuanced issues, such as harassment affecting sexual assault victims who come forward with their cases and different treatment for victims of color.

Department of Education assistant press secretary Stephen Spector said institutions are selected for review based on information from a variety of sources, including parents, media and community organizations. Institutions are also reviewed based on statistical and demographic data.

Glickman said the Department of Education does not discuss ongoing investigations, and that there is no specific timeline for the resolution of Dartmouth's case.

"I don't think there's any kind of limit to how long this can take," she said.

Evelynn Ellis, the College's current Title IX Coordinator, said it would be inappropriate for her to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Lindsay Ellis, Ashley Ulrich and Stephanie McFeeters contributed reporting.