Massachusetts Schools on List of Places Being Investigated for Possible Title IX Violations

UMass Amherst, Emerson, and Harvard College are part of the investigation.

Six Massachusetts colleges and universities are on a federal list of institutions being scrutinized for possibly violating the rules when it comes to reporting and handling sexual assault cases on school campuses.

Amherst, Emerson, and Harvard College, as well as UMass Amherst, Boston University, and Harvard University Law School, are all part of a list of 55 schools across the nation that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights said are being investigated for alleged Title IX violations.

Officials did not cite specific reasons why these particular schools made the list for their blanket investigation, but said it’s the “first” comprehensive gathering of higher education institutions that have possibly failed to abide by the law when it comes to dealing with allegations of sexual harassment and assault complaints. “We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights,” said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for Civil Rights. “We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue.”

The U.S. Department of Education stressed that inclusion in the investigation doesn’t mean the schools have impeded the law. The list includes investigations opened because of complaints received by the Office of Civil Rights, and others launched as overall compliance reviews.

In a statement, UMass Amherst officials said their inclusion on the list was not due to a Title IX complaint, but rather for the latter. “Compliance reviews are designed to address systemic issues and ensure that violations are readily identified and promptly eliminated,” said Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life. “We applaud the work of the OCR and are confident that any information that results from this compliance review will have a direct and positive impact throughout the University.”

The list of schools under investigation comes just days after the White House issued an advisory saying that it is committed to “putting an end” to this type of violence on school campuses, and looking into ways to vastly improve upon how acts of violence are handled by a school’s administration. In January, Obama announced the formation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. On April 29, he detailed a specific series of actions that the assembled committee would take to identify the scope of the problem on college campuses and help schools respond more effectively through legislative action, if necessary.

“Releasing this list advances a key goal of President Obama’s White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to bring more transparency to the federal government’s enforcement activities around this issue,” according to officials from the U.S. Department of Education.

Earlier this week, the same department that released the list of schools being put under a microscope declared that Tufts University was out of compliance with Title IX rules and regulations. The school called the allegations “unexpected,” and said they had been diligently cooperating and working with federal officials to improve their approach in handling sexual assault cases, after a student filed complaint in 2010. “Our goal is a campus culture in which every member of our community is respected, supported and safe. Sexual misconduct has absolutely no place at Tufts University,” Tufts officials said.

Title IX, implemented in 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all educational programs that receive federal aid. It’s also used as a resource by people that feel a school hasn’t done its part to help keep a student safe from sexual violence or harassment. Any schools found in violation of the law risk losing access to critical federal funding.