Columbia University is under federal investigation for alleged Title IX and Title II violations, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights confirmed on Monday.
The investigation — which began on Jan. 8 — was the result of a federal complaint filed against Columbia by 23 students, who alleged Columbia failed to adequately address campus incidents of sexual and dating violence in violation of Title IX, Title II and the Clery Act. Columbia joins 94 colleges and universities across the country that are currently under investigation by the OCR on how they handle sexual assault on their campuses. Over the past year, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown and Harvard have been or are currently subject to OCR Title IX investigations.
“The federal government getting involved will make the university realize that things actually have to change,” said Columbia sophomore Rachel Deal.
In a statement given by Columbia to the News about the OCR investigation, Columbia noted that the university had already updated its policies and strengthened its procedures. Columbia also stated it was planning additional measures, such as a sexual violence prevention initiative involving students, faculty and gender violence experts.
“We are committed to complying with Title IX and have no higher priority than protecting the safety and well-being of all who are part of our university community, and we will fully cooperate with OCR’s inquiry,” the statement said.
Between Jan. 1, 2002 and Sept. 22, 2014, 83 complaints have been filed against the Ivy League Schools, 14 of which led to formal investigations, according to documents obtained by the Harvard Crimson through a Freedom of Information Act request. Over these 12 years, Columbia received 16 complaints, while 11 complaints were filed against Yale.
Yale University was the subject of an OCR investigation in 2011, after 16 students and alumni filed a Title IX complaint against the University citing an “inadequate response” to public acts of sexual misconduct on campus.
If Columbia is found in violation of Title IX over the course of the investigation, OCR will first attempt to obtain voluntary compliance. If voluntary compliance cannot be agreed upon, then OCR will proceed with enforcement action, which may include a referral to the Department of Justice or, when all options have been exhausted, initiating proceedings to terminate Federal funding to the program or activity in which the violation was found.
While the 23 complainants awaited a decision from OCR after they lodged their complaint in April, Columbia University unveiled a new sexual assault policy based on guidance from the Department of Education that fall. Yet, the revisions — released in August — drew ire from student groups, as the new policy did not address concerns about existing policies that they had initially raised. According to the student groups that had criticized the preexisting policies, the new policy did not provide adequate support or accommodations to survivors of sexual assault. The appeals process described in the policy was also described as biased in favor of the defendants, the complainants claimed.
“People are definitely less trusting of the deans and the process than they were before,” Barnard sophomore Ellie Moriearty said. “There’s a sense of anger and frustration with the administration.”
She added that the fact that students at Columbia had taken their stories public and were vocal about their complaints helped draw attention to the university. The investigation follows many visible instances of student activism on the New York City campus protesting how the Columbia administration handles cases of sexual misconduct, including Carry that Weight — a protest by a Columbia senior to carry her mattress around on campus as a protest to her alleged sexual assault and Columbia’s inadequate response.
The OCR investigation at Yale four years ago was closed when the OCR and Yale reached a Voluntary Resolution Agreement, in which Yale agreed to make institutional changes before the OCR imposed sanctions.