The Department of Education on Monday announced a finding that Tufts University in Massachusetts is failing to comply with federal sexual assault rules, and that federal funding for the school may be at risk until it comes into compliance.
The Department said Tufts had entered into an agreement on how to come into compliance, but that Tufts then revoked that deal last week.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan's department says Tufts University is failing to meet federal standards on sexual assault. (AP Photo/Michael Sisak)
“This action constitutes a breach of the agreement,” the Department said. “Under federal civil rights regulations, OCR [the Department’s Office of Civil Rights] may move to initiate proceedings to terminate federal funding of Tufts or to enforce the agreement. The office stands ready to confer with Tufts on how to come into compliance speedily.”
OCR found that Tufts “failed to provide prompt and equitable responses to student complaints of sexual assault and harassment,” as required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. OCR said Tufts did not investigate alleged assaults when notified, unless notified in writing.
It also said Tufts didn’t have a permanent Title IX coordinator on staff for more than 18 months at one point.
“In addition, the office determined that for the student filing the complaint with the Education Department, the university allowed for the continuation of a hostile environment and denied the student’s access to educational opportunities at the university,” OCR added. “Arrangements made by the university to separate the student and the accused disproportionately burdened the student.”
According to the Boston Globe, the federal government reaction is the result of a 2010 complaint about how Tufts dealt with her complaint about being sexually assaulted. The Globe reported that Tufts says it has taken several steps to improve the way it handles sexual assault complaints.
“We have worked hard in recent years to improve how we respond to complaints of sexual misconduct, investigate them, and impose appropriate penalties while respecting the rights of all parties,” Tufts president Anthony P. Monaco wrote Monday.
But the Department of Education said Tufts’ decision to pull out of the earlier agreement means the school is not in compliance, and that the safety of students is at risk.
“Our federal civil rights laws demand that students not be denied their ability to participate fully in education because of sexual assault and harassment,” said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “OCR will take actions necessary to ensure that the agreement is fully and effectively implemented.”
The Globe said many schools have criticized the OCR for aggressive enforcement of Title IX without showing enough deference to those schools. Last week, OCR started an investigation into Harvard after student complaints that there is a “hostile environment” for victims of sexual assault at that school, according to the Globe.