This week we have more on the growing list of school’s under investigation, data on what usually happens to those schools, and one of the possible consequences of increased scrutiny of colleges and universities.
The U.S Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is currently investigating 106 colleges and universities for Title IX compliance related to the schools’ handling of sexual violence cases. This number has almost doubled since May last year, when the DOE first revealed the list of schools it was investigating. Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, explained last May that the OCR was releasing the list “to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights.” She also clarified that being under investigation did not mean that the college or university “is violating or has violated the law.”
What happens to schools investigated by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights? Based on nearly 9,000 complaints the OCR investigated over the last 11 years, these charts reveal the vast majority of Title IX cases were simply dismissed. Furthermore, no Title IX investigation resulted in “enforcement,” where the OCR would strip a school of federal funding. Instead schools enter into resolution agreements with the OCR first, obligating schools to take steps that meet the OCR’s Title IX compliance requirements. For example, it was reported last May that after “Tufts defiantly backed out of an agreement,” the OCR “warned that it could move to terminate Tufts’ federal funding if the university did not comply, a result so catastrophic that it virtually required Tufts to reach some understanding with the government.” Once Tufts’ president received “clarity” about the basis for OCR finding the university in violation of Title IX, Tufts agreed to change its policies on how to handle sexual assault cases.
The Tufts case supports commentators in the recent Bloomberg article, suggesting that the lack of enforcement demonstrates how the threat of losing federal funding forces schools into compliance: too much is at stake for schools to do anything but concede to the OCR’s requests. Other commentators, however, argue that the lack of enforcement exposes the OCR’s weakness and the lack of political will to punish schools for violating Title IX. It is worth noting, however, that the number of Title IX complaints rose fivefold between 2012 and 2013. The article attributes the spike to the OCR’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which laid out a school’s responsibilities to respond to complaints of sexual harassment.
One way schools are responding to increased scrutiny by the OCR and in the media is by cracking down on misconduct. As we’ve been covering for a while now, fraternities in particular have felt the heat of school’s greater vigilance. As this Huffington Post article reports, since the beginning of March alone, thirty fraternities have been shut down by their school or their national headquarters. The incidents that prompted the closures cover a range of student conduct violations. According to the article, one fraternity used a stun gun to intimidate its pledges and another damaged 45 rooms at a ski resort. The article suggests that the Internet may also be partially responsible for the increased scrutiny, since it’s easier to “circulate – and catch – examples of misbehavior.” The article ends, however, with a comment from Jason Laker, a professor at San Jose State University. Laker reminds us that some of fraternity members’ bad behavior may have roots in larger cultural constructs of masculinity.