As reported last week, The White House Task Force To Protect Students From Sexual Assault issued its first report. Simultaneously, OCR issued Q&As on Title IX obligations and related documents to help guide institutions and to reinforce the government’s interest in pushing colleges and universities to better respond to campus sexual assaults. The effort to protect students on college and university campuses from sexual assaults is unquestionably a good thing, although one might question some of the government’s tactics.
Towards the end of last week, the Department of Education turned the heat up on institutions. On May 1, DOE made public a list of 55 higher education institutions currently the subject of OCR Title IX investigations, both complaint and compliance driven. Bear in mind that these are simply situations in which a complaint has been filed, whether warranted or not, or the institution is the subject of a compliance review. While the DOE’s press release stated that an “appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law,” it seems that this latest tactic is intended as the equivalent of a “perp walk” designed to put pressure on institutions by making them look bad, although they have not been found in violation of the law in any way. Although OCR noted that the list will be updated regularly, thus sending a message well beyond the 55 institutions named, it is notable that OCR did not indicate any intention to publicize, in a similar manner, those institutions cleared of any allegations of misconduct.
This current wave of action to attack sexual assault has not been limited to the federal government. Last week the Connecticut House and Senate both passed legislation dealing with campus sexual assaults. Under this legislation, both public and private colleges and universities in Connecticut will be required, among other things, to:
- provide free counseling services to students who have been sexually assaulted, whether on or off campus,
- provide annual prevention and awareness programs for students and employees,
- provide concise written notice of a student’s right to seek disciplinary action in the event of a sexual assault and of the availability of any free healthcare and counseling related to an assault,
- enter into an agreement with at least one community-based sexual assault crisis service and a domestic violence agency to provide free help to students, and
- provide legislators on an annual basis with the institution’s sexual assault policies, the number and type of risk reduction programs in place, the number of incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking, the number of disciplinary cases related to sexual assaults and their outcomes.
Time will tell if other states will follow suit with their own unique brand of campus sexual assault legislative oversight.
In the meantime, institutions will need to prepare for the possible negative public image impact of OCR’s decision to publicize any complaint or compliance review, regardless of outcome or merit.