University under investigation
Brandeis has been added to a list of over 75 colleges and universities that are currently under federal investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for potential violations of Title IX rights.
The Office of Civil Rights will be investigating the alleged mishandling of a case on behalf of an accused student—who was found guilty of sexual misconduct after a Special Examiner’s Process took place—after the student filed a complaint against the University for non-compliance with Title IX.
According to Executive Director of Integrated Media Bill Schaller in an email to the Justice, the University has been informed of the ensuing investigation. The accused student said in an interview with the Justice that he was officially notified that the University was under investigation for potential Title IX violations on Sept. 2. However, he would not comment further, “as not to impede on the investigation.”
The University’s handling of the particular case that prompted the complaint to the Department of Education—a case whose handling was chronicled in a June 24 Justice article, and was later picked up by the national media in the Washington Post and the Boston Globe—drew criticism from both the accused student and the alleged victim.
The accusing student had initially drawn attention to the case on Facebook, where he posted over summer break about the University’s decision to find the student he accused guilty of sexual misconduct yet only gave that student a disciplinary warning and mandated that he complete an educational program designed by Sexual Assault and Prevention Specialist Sheila McMahon.
The accused student was interviewed for previous Justice articles, saying that the University ignored several claims that he made during the process, as well as lists of witnesses that he provided to testify on his behalf. “I was found responsible for these instances with little regard for any fairness during the process,” the accused student told the Justice in a June 24 article.
According to a letter from the Department of Education obtained by the Justice, the main components of the accused student’s complaint against Brandeis include the University’s failure to address a complaint of sexual assault that the accused student also filed against the accusing party, the accused student’s allegations that he was wrongly disciplined due to this mishandling and his allegation that the University failed to equitably consider his counter-allegations.
The letter also states that, simply because the complaint has been opened for investigation, the Office of Civil Rights has made no determination about the merit of the complaint and will act as a “neutral fact-finder.”
A later statement from Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel, which was posted on the University's website, states that “[w]hile the investigation is by no means welcome news, it is not unexpected,” Flagel wrote. “We will in every way cooperate fully with the OCR. The University has made great strides in the area of Title IX compliance, and we look forward to working with OCR to identify ways to further improve our policies and practices.”
The University’s initial statement provided by Schaller stressed several initiatives that it has recently taken to address sexual assault on campus, such as holding bystander training sessions, creating a new website to increase awareness for sexual assault services and prevention, creating resource guides for students, faculty and staff and working to establish a student-run Rape Crisis Center, which Flagel wrote in his statement that he anticipates will be open by the start of the spring semester. “The safety, health and well-being of our students is paramount,” the initial statement provided by Schaller read. “These initiatives, and many to come, are part of fulfilling that commitment.”
Despite the University’s recent efforts, the case chronicled in the June 24 article drew criticism from the greater Brandeis community, as well as from both parties involved. In addition to grievances that the Department of Education is investigating on behalf of the accused student, the accusing student also raised concerns about the University. The University failed to respond to him in a timely manner and did not punish the accused for violating a no contact order due to what the accusing party said that University Police Lt. Bette Reilly referred to as an “ambiguity” in the way the accused party understood the NCO. However, the accused party noted that the NCO “makes no mention of what to do when we are in the same place.”
Title IX is a portion of the United States Education Amendments of 1972 that states that states that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Although Title IX prohibits universities from discriminating based upon gender, it has further been interpreted to hold universities responsible for handling sexual assault cases and punishing assailants. The court-ruled reasoning, which can be linked back to the 1999 Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education case, is that sexual abuse interferes with the ability of individuals to receive an education. In the April 4, 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter” written by the Department of Education to provide guidelines for universities, it was officially established that the requirements of Title IX pertaining to sexual harassment also apply to sexual assault.
Many of the cases that have recently been under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights involve the rights of accusing parties and universities’ avoidance in addressing complaints. However, Title IX also protects accused students by establishing guidelines for adjudication more rigorous than a typical disciplinary hearing for student conduct violations. Universities are required to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Such guidelines are also outlined in the “Dear Colleague Letter.” In addition, both the accusing and accused parties must receive equal treatment and consideration throughout the process.
The comprehensive list of colleges and universities under investigation for potential Title IX violations was initially released by the Department of Education on May 1 and included 55 higher education institutions. The list has continued to grow over the past several months.
The Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment on the investigation process by press time.