Friday, May 09, 2014

VMI's Sexual Assault Policies Violate Title IX

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced today that it has found the Virginia Military Institute in violation of Title IX for not protecting female cadets from a sexually hostile environment and for failing to provide prompt and equitable resolution of their claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault.  OCR's findings detail six separate instances in the last five years where a cadet's report of sexual violence was not handled properly. In one case where a cadet was assaulted by an administrator, the institution conducted an incomplete investigation and the findings that the assault had occurred were overruled by its Superintendent. Other problems included delay and failing to notify complainants of the outcomes in their cases. OCR also found that VMI violated Title IX by requiring female cadets who are pregnant or parenting to resign or face expulsion. 

VMI has entered into a resolution agreement with OCR in which it agrees to combine its four separate policies into a single, unified policy governing sexual violence and harassment for both cadets and staff.  This policy will also ensure the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints by,   for example, specifying time frames for the resolution process, clarifying the institution's obligation to investigate reports of assault that are also under investigation by local law enforcement, and spelling out interim measures it will take to protect those who report assault while their grievances are pending. VMI also agrees to conduct annual climate surveys, sexual assault prevention programs, and training for staff and cadets about their rights under Title IX.  For the next academic year, the school will also submit to OCR all of the sexual harassment and assault complaints that it receives, as well it its investigative files and findings.  VMI has already rescinded the policy calling for cadets who are pregnant or parenting to resign or be separated from the institution.

The agency also investigated an allegation that the institution's tenure and promotion policies violated Title IX.  Though it did not make findings of noncompliance in this area, VMI has agreed to revise those policies as well, "to clarify the role of the dean of the faculty and to specify the sources of information upon which the dean may base his recommendation to the superintendent concerning candidates for tenure and promotion."

Women have been accepted for admission to VMI since 1997, following a Supreme Court ruling that the state of Virginia violated the Equal Protection Clause by operating a state institution that discriminated on the basis of sex.