Thursday, May 08, 2014

Former Student Files Complaint Against Northeastern

A former student has reportedly filed a complaint alleging that Northeastern University did not adequately respond to her report of having been raped by another student in 2011.  The university allegedly discouraged her from reporting, failed to inform her of her rights, and withheld counseling services. It then took the university four months to hold a hearing.  The university did find the accused student responsible for the rape, but he appealed, arguing that there was not enough evidence for the university to find she had not consented.  The appeal remained pending for a long period of time, during which he withdrew and transferred, and she dropped out in defeat.

This case helps illustrate why delay is such an effective tactic by universities seeking to suppress sexual assault and -- for political, financial, and legal reasons -- avoid expelling or otherwise sanctioning offenders.  Delays increase the likelihood that the victim will graduate or otherwise leave before the final resolution of the case.  Because of cases with delay allegations like this one, the Department of Education now requires investigations to be completed within 60 days in most cases and imposes a "reasonably prompt" time frame over disciplinary proceedings.    

Though not directly raised by the allegations against Northeastern, another common tactic that universities use to avoid sanctioning for sexual assault is to find the accused student responsible after the initial hearing, but to allow him to secretly and successfully appeal his sanction. We do not know that Northeastern was playing that particular game, but that may only be because the student transferred before his appeal was resolved.  Notably, the Department of Education now requires the university to notify both parties to a grievance proceeding of the outcome of both the initial hearing and any appeal.

It is now up to OCR to decide whether to open an investigation against Northeastern. If so, Northeastern would join the list of 55 schools with similar pending investigations.