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Michigan Schools Under the Microscope for Handling of Sexual Assault Investigations: Patch Poll

Should universities be forced into acting as pseudo courts to investigate complaints of sexual assault. Is that a matter better left to police?

Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are both on the list of 55 universities under investigation for their handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints. (Photo: mattbigelow via Flickr)
Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are both on the list of 55 universities under investigation for their handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints. (Photo: mattbigelow via Flickr)

Both the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Michigan State University at Lansing are on the list of 55 higher education institutions under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for possible violations of federal law over their handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. In the past, Department officials confirmed individual Title IX investigations at institutions, but today's list is the first comprehensive look at which campuses are under review by OCR for possible violations of the law's requirements around sexual violence.

"We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights," Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said. "We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue. I also want to make it clear that a college or university's appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law."

As with all OCR investigations, the primary goal of a Title IX investigation is to ensure that the campus is in compliance with federal law, which demands that students are not denied the ability to participate fully in educational and other opportunities due to sex.

The Department will not disclose any case-specific facts or details about the institutions under investigation. The list includes investigations opened because of complaints received by OCR and those initiated by OCR as compliance reviews. When an investigation concludes, the Department will disclose, upon request, whether OCR has entered into a resolution agreement to address compliance concerns at a particular campus or found insufficient evidence of a Title IX violation there.

The list of institutions under investigation for Title IX sexual violence issues will be updated regularly and made available to the public upon request by contacting OCR or to media by contacting the Press Office at press@ed.gov.

Releasing this list advances a key goal of President Obama's White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to bring more transparency to the federal government's enforcement activities around this issue. The Obama administration is committed to putting an end to sexual violence—particularly on college campuses. That's why the President established the Task Force earlier this year with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses.

As part of that work, the Education Department released updated guidance earlier this week describing the responsibilities of colleges, universities and schools receiving federal funds to address sexual violence and other forms of sex discrimination under Title IX. The guidelines provide greater clarity about the requirements of the law around sexual violence—as requested by institutions and students.

All colleges, and universities and K-12 schools receiving federal funds must comply with Title IX. Schools that violate the law and refuse to address the problems identified by OCR can lose federal funding or be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for further action.

Under federal law, sexual violence refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person's will or where a person is incapable of giving consent -- including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual abuse and sexual coercion.

OCR's mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about the office is available here.

With the release of the names of the 55 schools facing investigations for their handling of sexual abuse allegations, the federal government has sent a clear signal that it takes these issues seriously. This raises the question:

  • Is it fair to ask universities to act as pseudo police agencies, or are investigations better left to police? Take the poll and tell us what you think in the comments.
sherry May 04, 2014 at 06:55 AM
The poll question should have been should these universities be allowed to have their own police forces to investigate the crimes in campus or should the local police force of that campus be the investigating force? Every campus has their own police force that reports to the campus. The campus does not want prospective parents/students in addition to federal programs from whom they receive funds, to see the numbers of sexual assaults and other crimes(under age drinking, assault, break ins, theft, etc) that take place on campuses everywhere. Therefore it is handled in-house and not reported many times
ila.blake May 05, 2014 at 07:12 AM
When sexual assaults are reported ,the information should be handed over to the proper police and actions taken after a full investigation. It is my information that in the state of Michigan the law reads that insurance companies do not have to pay for pregnancy terminations that result from rapes. If true it is vital that these assualts are IMMEDIATELY investigated.
Debbie Campbell May 05, 2014 at 11:59 AM
Schools should have a legal responsibility and obligation to report any and all on-campus criminal activity to the "real" police for investigation and prosecution-Simply because someone is a college student shouldn't mean that they lose fair and equal protection under the law. Protecting the reputation of an "institution" instead of protecting the well-being of students is wrong.

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