University of Michigan Probed for Response to Sexual Assault

The University of Michigan is being probed by federal investigators for its handling of sexual assaults on campus.

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights notified the university yesterday of an investigation into its compliance with Title IX, Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based school, said in an e-mail. Title IX bars gender discrimination in education, and failure to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct is a violation.

Universities across the U.S. have come under fire for their handling of sexual violence on campus. The Michigan investigation relates to a complaint filed against the school in January that cites earlier allegations of inadequate responses to sexual assaults, the Office for Civil Rights said in a letter to university President Mary Sue Coleman.

“The complaint alleges that the university failed to promptly and equitably respond to complaints, reports and/or incidents of sexual violence of which it had notice, including an August 2012 report of sexual assault made by a female student,” OCR said in the letter.

The office requested documents related to any complaints and reports of sexual harassment made to the university that were investigated or resolved back through the 2011-2012 academic year, according to the letter.

Student Union of Michigan, a campus advocacy group, said it was planning a march today to protest the university’s response to sexual assaults.

Student Protest

“We are fed up with university administration’s handling of sexual violence,” according to a post on the group’s Facebook site giving the details of the protest. “We are fed up with the university hierarchy hampering transparency and safety to protect their own profit-making abilities and reputations.”

The University of Michigan is proud of its student sexual-misconduct policy, prevention efforts and programs to support survivors of sexual misconduct, Fitzgerald said in the e-mail.

“We will fully cooperate with the Department of Education and we believe that a review of our policy, programs and investigations will conclude that the University of Michigan is doing what it should in this important area,” he said.

In the fiscal year that ended in September, the Education Department received 30 Title IX complaints. Schools under investigation include the University of Southern California, the University of North Carolina and Dartmouth College.

Schools found to have violated Title IX are subject to fines and other sanctions, and risk losing access to federal student grants and loans.

Jim Bradshaw, an Education Department spokesman, declined to provide further details.

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