Tufts Risks Losing Federal Aid in Sex Discrimination Case

Tufts University could lose government funding after breaking an agreement with the U.S. Education Department related to compliance with campus sexual assault and harassment regulations.

Tufts said on April 26 that it was “revoking” an agreement to remedy violations of Title IX, the law that bars sex discrimination in education, the department said today in a statement. Revoking the accord is a breach of the agreement that can lead to loss of federal funds.

Schools all over the U.S., including Harvard University, the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley, have been hit with student complaints of failure to prevent and respond to sexual assaults. Tufts worked with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights for four years to resolve the investigation of one student’s complaint, the university said today in a statement.

“Tufts University is surprised and disappointed that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has declared the University to be out of compliance with Title IX,” the university said in the statement. “The department’s recently announced finding has no basis in law and we have requested to speak with OCR’s Washington office to discuss this unexpected and troubling announcement.”

The office is ready to confer with Medford, Massachusetts-based Tufts on compliance, the Education Department said in its statement.

Case History

The investigation began in 2010 after a student told the Education Department that Tufts officials mishandled her case after she had been sexually assaulted, according to a letter from the department to Tufts President Anthony Monaco. The student complained that the investigation took too long and Tufts didn’t protect her from contact with her alleged assailant, according to the letter.

Tufts agreed to take a number of steps to improve its campus response, according to Education Department documents. The school changed its procedures for investigation of assaults and retained a coordinator and investigator for Title IX cases.

Tufts signed an agreement with the department on April 17 that outlined these steps along with further actions to enhance the effectiveness of its measures. On April 22, the department said that the school remains out of compliance, according to a statement from Tufts.

“Under these circumstances, on April 26, we regretfully revoked our signature from the Voluntary Resolution Agreement,” according to the Tufts statement. “We could not, in good faith, allow our community to believe that we were not in compliance with such an important law.

Financial Aid

Violations of Title IX can lead to fines and loss of federal student financial aid.

‘‘The department’s Office for Civil Rights may move to initiate proceedings to terminate funding of Tufts or to enforce the agreement,’’ the Education Department said.

Tufts will continue to move forward on its plans to remain in compliance with Title IX, said Kim Thurler, a spokeswoman.

‘‘We believe we’re already in compliance and we’re going to keep moving in that direction,” she said.

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