Federal Sex-Assault Investigations Under Way at 55 Colleges

The U.S. Education Department is investigating 55 colleges for failing to prevent and respond to sexual assaults and harassment on campus.

The colleges are being probed for violations of Title IX, the law that bars gender discrimination in education, the agency said today in a statement. Bloomberg News and other media organizations requested the list under the Freedom of Information Act.

Students at colleges across the country have inundated the agency’s Office for Civil Rights with complaints of botched investigations, skimpy prevention programs and failures to enable assault victims to continue their studies. A White House task force report released April 28 proposed a series of measures, including greater government transparency around investigations, to help address the issue.

“We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue,” said Catherine Lhamon, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, in the statement.

Schools being investigated include Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which has separate probes under way at its undergraduate college and law school, Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Florida State University in Tallahassee and the University of California at Berkeley. The investigations don’t mean that the colleges or universities are violating or have violated the law, Lhamon said in the statement.

Campus Guidelines

Along with the task force report this week, the Obama administration released guidance that clarifies universities’ responsibilities for addressing sexual misconduct on campus. Today marks the first time the department has released a complete list of schools under investigation for noncompliance, the statement said.

Colleges that don’t meet the standards may face fines and loss of eligibility for federal student aid. Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, is risking losing government funds after it broke an agreement with the Education Department to resolve issues related to Title IX, the agency said April 28. Tufts has said it took steps to improve its response and that it believes it is in compliance with the standards.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri and former sex-crimes prosecutor, has sent out surveys to hundreds of colleges to gather information about how they’re responding to sexual assaults. She and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York who worked with McCaskill on reforming sexual-assault responses in the military, are planning additional action on the campus issue later this year, including congressional hearings, McCaskill said.

“It’s important that colleges and universities understand that they have a silent impact that’s chewing away at the character of higher education in this country, and now it deserves their highest priority,” McCaskill said in an April 29 interview.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net John Lear

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