In the past few months, we have reported on how sixty-eight higher education institutions throughout the nation have made it onto the U.S. Department of Education’s public list of colleges and universities that are currently under investigation for allegedly mishandling complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment in violation of Title IX. Their names have also been splashed across all types of media and not in a favorable light. For example, just recently a story was featured on the front page of the New York Times that provides a detailed portrait of how one institution allegedly mishandled a sexual assault complaint. Is your school next?
Colleges and universities have an obligation to make their campuses a safe place for all students and it’s getting more difficult to meet this obligation. Over the past year, an exceptional number of Title IX complaints alleging institutional mishandling of sexual assault investigations were filed with the U.S. Department of Education by both alleged victims and alleged assailants. In recent months, the White House and Congress have given an inordinate amount of attention on campus sexual assaults and as a result, institutions throughout the country have been inundated with an overwhelming amount of federal guidance.
For example, in April 2014, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. On the same day, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence. Just one month later in June 2014, the U.S. Department of Education proposed additional changes to the Clery Act that are set to take effect in the coming year.
A new era of Title IX enforcement and attention by the federal government has begun. The rate at which colleges and universities are being reprimanded in the public arena for failing to fulfill their increased obligations under Title IX is unprecedented and alarming. Compliance costs are soaring as are the penalties for inadequate, improper or even non-existent (when otherwise required) investigations. As a result of recent events, existing policies and prevention techniques that were compliant with Title IX prior to April 2014 may no longer be compliant and can subject institutions to substantial, unforeseen and budget-busting expenses.