A federal investigation into whether Yale violated Title IX has been in the media spotlight since it was first announced two weeks ago, but similar probes at Yale’s peer institutions have gone largely unnoticed.
At least four other universities and professional schools — including the University of Virginia (UVA), Duke University, Princeton University and Harvard Law School — are presently under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights because of Title IX complaints, DOE spokesperson Jim Bradshaw said. Legal experts interviewed explained that Yale’s case is not unique, given the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault incidents across universities.
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“The improper application of Title IX [when colleges handle] sexual misconduct cases is a pervasive issue,” said S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for Security on Campus, Inc., a non-profit organization focused on safety on college campuses.
Duke alone is now facing three open cases — two accusing the university of slow and inadequate action in response to grievances of sexual harassment, and a third accusing Duke of retaliating against a complainant who filed a prior complaint with the OCR. Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke, confirmed the Title IX investigations into his school, but deferred to the OCR for additional details.
The OCR inquiries at Yale and the other four schools all stem from alleged violations of Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding. The OCR generally does not release details of investigations, Bradshaw said. Kristen Galles, a Virginia-based Title IX lawyer who has been litigating Title IX cases since 1993, said investigations usually go public only when the complainants opt to discuss their cases with the media.
“[An investigation] at Yale might wake up a lot of schools to do something,” Galles said, explaining that OCR commonly “negotiates” with schools to find ways to comply with Title IX throughout the investigation.
But complainant Hannah Zeavin ’12 said that she and the other 15 Yale students and alumni who filed the Title IX complaint against the University only did so to help change the University’s handling of sexual misconduct cases. The complainants did not intend to draw the national media to campus when they announced the OCR probe on Mar. 31, she said. The DOE’s announcement of clearer Title IX guidelines just days after that drew more attention to Yale’s situation, Zeavin added.
According to the OCR, Yale was not the only school facing federal investigation when the DOE clarified Title IX last week. The OCR is also investigating allegations that Harvard Law School’s grievance procedures do not provide prompt and equitable resolution of sexual misconduct charges, Bradshaw said.
Carol Wood, associate vice president for public affairs at UVA, said an anonymous former student filed a complaint against UVA almost a year ago. Bradshaw said that the complainant alleged that the university used the wrong standard of proof in order to find an accused person guilty of sexual misconduct. The correct standard of proof is about 51 percent certainty, or a “preponderance of the evidence,” according to the Title IX advisory issued by OCR last week.
The Princeton case alleges the school discriminated against a female student on the basis of her sex, Bradshaw said.
Administrators at Harvard Law School declined to give details about the investigations. Princeton administrators declined to comment.
Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at New England Law in Boston, said she helped to file grievances against Harvard Law and UVA with the OCR. Murphy said the OCR is examining whether Harvard has tried “run out the clock” by delaying the law school’s investigations of sexual misconduct complaints. Robb London, assistant dean for communications at Harvard Law, said only that the school knows of Murphy’s contact with OCR.
“We are aware that Wendy Murphy, who is neither a student nor faculty member at Harvard, has been in touch with OCR,” he wrote in an email to the News on Wednesday. London deferred to OCR for further comment.
Associate University General Counsel Susan Sawyer told the News on Tuesday that the University will alter its sexual misconduct policies following the DOE’s clarification of its Title IX regulations.