Thursday, December 09, 2010

Resolution Reached in Title IX Sexual Assault Cases

The Department of Education announced that it has reached "voluntary resolution agreements" with two universities that it had been investigating on charges that they failed to protect students from sexual assault in violation of Title IX. According to the Center for Public Integrity, an organization of investigative journalism that has in the past reported on the government's lax enforcement of Title IX in this area, today's agreements obligate Eastern Michigan University and Notre Dame College in Ohio to a list of remedial measures aimed to protect students.

Eastern Michigan University had apparently attempted to cover up the rape and murder of one of its students, Laura Dickinson, when they falsely reported that her death had involved no foul play. The Department of Education investigated the university on charges that it violated federal crime-reporting act (the Clery Act) that also covers sexual assault, and assessed a $350,000 fine. Additionally, however, the agency's investigation extended into possible violations of Title IX stemming from weak or nonexistent policies and practices aimed to protect students from sexual harassment and assault. This investigation produces a resolution agreement under which the university is obligated to undertake a variety of measures from adopted and publicizing nondiscrimination policies that expressly include sexual harassment and assault, as well as grievance procedures to address claims of sex discrimination involving students, faculty, staff, and third parties. The university must also appoint and train a Title IX Coordinator to coordinate the university's efforts at compliance. The agreement includes more creative, proactive requirements as well, including that the university:
  • establish a committee of students to ensure that students understand their rights and the university's responsibilities under Title IX, and to recommend strategies to address and prevent instances of sexual harassment and assault;
  • review campus police records for the last school year, and for any instances of sexual assault that were treated solely as criminal matters, assess whether violations of Title IX occurred, whether remedies were effective, and to take any necessary additional steps to ensure that the matter is effectively addressed
  • address sexual harassment and assault at freshman orientation
  • and establish an on-call victims assistance program
Notre Dame College, where officials had also been charged with trying to cover up sexual assault, is bound to a similar resolution agreement.

Assistant Secretary Russlyn Ali says that by including measures "far more robust" than what OCR has sought in the past, these agreements change the paradigm for how all colleges and universities will address campus sexual assaults.