The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has found Boston-based Tufts University to be out of compliance with Title IX due to its handling of student sexual assault on campus. The case highlights what's become a common and controversial application of Title IX—the statute designed to prevent sex-based discrimination in education—as well as the ED's increased meddling in matters of campus sexual assault and harassment.
The ED's Office for Civil Rights, which handles Title IX enforcement, is currently investigating the Univesity of Chicago, Harvard, Columbia University, and Tufts for allegations of mishandling sexual assault cases. The Tufts case stems from a complaint filed by a female student in September 2010. From The Boston Globe:
The unnamed Tufts undergraduate … (said) that the school had discriminated against her on the basis of gender in how it responded to her report that she was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend at that time. She also said the university retaliated against her by threatening to remove her from a selective leadership program if she refused to attend weekly seminars with her alleged attacker, according to a letter the Office for Civil Rights sent Monaco Monday.
Ultimately, in June 2011, Tufts found there was insufficient evidence to sustain her allegations. She was put on probation after a finding that she had fabricated a letter about her medical conditions and had not been truthful with university officials, according to the Office for Civil Rights.
The accused student was also put on probation for having misrepresented himself as a Tufts medical student to obtain confidential medical information about his accuser.
In a Monday ruling, the ED did not fault Tufts's ultimate decision in the case, nor did it find that Tufts retaliated against the accusing student. But it did decide that Tufts is not complying with federal guidelines on how schools should address sexual assault cases.
Specifically, it faulted Tufts for waiting six months to launch an investigation into the student's assault complaints, not issuing a decision for another 12 months, and allowing potentially prejudicial information in the disciplinary case. That's no doubt inexcusably shoddy handling of the situation from the university—but a form of "gender discrimination?"
Routine bureaucratic incompetence and oversight could also fit the bill.
Failure to "reach an agreement" with the Office for Civil Rights could result in Tufts losing all federal funding. But though Tufts listed an array of improvements it had made in sexual assault policies since 2010 (and agreed to compensate the student), it objected to the ED's finding that it's in violation of Title IX.
"Tufts' refusal to go along with the Office for Civil Rights may be the beginning of a backlash from universities against what some see as excessive government intervention," The Globe notes.
Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, said many colleges believe that the Office for Civil Rights often fails to negotiate in good faith, with Washington officials frequently vetoing agreements hammered out by regional government lawyers.
He saw the action against Tufts as posturing prior to a White House event planned for Tuesday, when the findings of a task force on sexual assault are expected to be released.
Since 2011, the ED has investigated dozens of American colleges—including Yale, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Occidental College—on allegations of Title IX violations based on handling of sexual assault cases.