The Department of Education will likely resolve the ongoing complaint against the University for alleged violations of Title IX within two weeks, according to New England School of Law adjunct professor Wendy Murphy, who was responsible for filing the complaint.
Murphy opened cases against the University and Harvard Law School under Title IX — the law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational institutions that receive federal funding — for sexual violence complaints in fall 2010.
The Department of Education included these institutions on a list of higher education institutions under federal investigation released last Thursday.
In sending the cases to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Murphy said she wanted the agency’s headquarters to issue global guidelines so that all schools could improve their sexual assault and Title IX policies, as the problems at the University and Harvard Law School were allegedly systemic in higher education. OCR responded by releasing a Dear Colleague Letter in April 2011 that explained “schools’ responsibility to take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence” under Title IX regulations.
However, a few weeks after the letter’s publication, legislators filed a new federal law called the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, referred to as SaVE, that reduced the standards for helping sexual assault victims, according to Murphy.
“It in effect gives Harvard and Princeton and all schools federal authority to mistreat sexual assault victims on campus,” she explained. “In other words, the very things they were in trouble for — the very things they were under investigation for doing wrong in 2010 — became legal to a great extent.”
Murphy filed lawsuits on Feb. 18 against the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services in response to the enactment of the Campus SaVE Act. Writing on behalf of all women in higher education, she said that the Campus SaVE act is unconstitutional and asked that the federal judge prevent its enforcement.
“It violates women’s equal protection and due process rights by treating violence against women under worse policies and procedures than violence against any other class of students on campus based on things like race, national origin, and so forth,” she noted.
Murphy predicted that if the government had resolved the investigations before the Campus SaVE Act took effect on March 7, it would have found the University and Harvard Law School in violation.
“That’s why they were dragged out — held open, if you will — to allow the Campus SaVE Act to become law, which benefits the schools that are currently under investigation because they’re now allowed to mistreat women in the redress of sexual assault on campus,” she said.
Murphy said she expects a resolution in favor of the University by May 20, the date the attorney general must respond to her lawsuit, as he will then be able to argue that the lawsuit is moot. She noted that without the attorney general’s support, she might need to raise the question of the Campus SaVE Act’s constitutionality in another context.
Western New England University School of Law professor and Title IX Blog co-founder Erin Buzuvis said the Department of Education will investigate whether Princeton has followed the very specific Title IX regulations and subsequent interpretations the agency has made in recent years.
“They’ll be looking into the details of how the University investigated the complaints that were made, whether the University treated the complaining victims in an appropriate manner and how the University’s disciplinary process and procedure works,” she explained. “They’ll compare all that to the legal standard that is now very clear and very highly specified under Title IX, to see if there was then, and/or if there is now, things to do to come into compliance.”
Buzuvis said the worst punishment the University could face would involve the withdrawal of federal funds, but added that she does not expect that to happen because the Department of Education has never used that penalty in these cases.
“It prefers generally to resolve these issues through some kind of agreement with the University — kind of like a settlement in litigation context, that would be an analogous way to think of it,” she said. “In order to not go through with the withdrawal of federal funds, the University would, or the HQ would get the University to agree to make corrective steps to their policies or practices around sexual assault.”
Staff writer Lorenzo Quiogue contributed reporting.