Thursday, September 11, 2014

OCR Concludes Compliance Review of Ohio State

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced that it has concluded a Title IX compliance review at the Ohio State University that the agency commenced at its own initiative in 2010.  OCR determined that OSU's written policies and procedures for responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence did not comply with Title IX requirements such as by failing to designate reasonable timeframes for the major stages of the disciplinary process, failing to extend the policies to harassment committed by third parties, and failing to define sexual harassment to take into consideration the subjective (as well as objective) perspective.

In response to these and other findings, the agency negotiated a resolution agreement with the university that obligates OSU to make necessary revisions to come into compliance.  In particular, OSU is obligated to:
  • Streamline and revise certain policies consistent with the law; 
  • Review and confirm the proper handling of sexual harassment/violence complaints and reports since the 2011-12 academic year; 
  • Expand sexual assault and harassment training programs to include all members of the university community – including students, faculty, administrators, and university police; and 
  • Establish a campus focus group to provide input on strategies for ensuring that students understand their rights under Title IX, how to report possible violations, and Ohio State’s obligation to promptly and equitably respond to Title IX complaints. 
Now that the agency has concluded its compliance review at Ohio State, the university is no longer in the company of the eighty-some other colleges and universities with pending Title IX investigations.  (By way of background regarding OCR's investigation methods, most of its investigations result from complaints that the agency receives, but a small percentage of are conducted proactively by the agency's own initiative -- with OSU's investigation falling into that latter category.  Another example of a proactive compliance review was the SUNY-system review that concluded in a similar manner in 2013.)

Another contextual point worth making is that the agency's review commenced long before the problems of sexual harassment and sexualized climate of Ohio State's marching band came to light.  Yet, OCR has taken the opportunity of its pending investigation to review and endorse the university's response to that matter, which included terminating the band director and as well as implementing other structural changes to prevent similar problems going forward.  In the press release announcing the resolution agreement, Catherine Lhamon, the Department's Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights "applauded" the university for setting "clear and vitally important expectations for a community-wide culture of prevention, support, and safety," and for serving as an example of "strong leadership.. to eradicate a culture of silence related to sexual harassment." As Ohio State endured criticism from the band director's supporters who believe his termination was an over-reaction, it no doubt appreciates the Department's inclusion of this public statement of support.