Penn State, CMU on federal list of schools with sex abuse investigations
Carnegie Mellon University and Penn State University are among 55 colleges and universities across the nation under investigation for possible civil rights violations in their handling of sexual abuse complaints.
The U.S. Department of Education released the list — which includes tony Ivy League universities, sprawling state flagship schools and small private colleges — on Thursday, two days after the Obama administration announced it was beefing up efforts to address sexual violence on campuses.
Other Pennsylvania schools on the list are Temple, Franklin & Marshall and Swarthmore, all in eastern Pennsylvania. The list included Bethany College, a small private college in West Virginia, about 50 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. No other details surrounding the investigations were released.
The investigations fall under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. It guarantees women equal access to sports and regulates institutions' handling of sexual violence.
Victims who say their schools failed to protect them increasingly cite the law.
An Obama administration task force said studies that suggest one in five women on campuses are assaulted are cause for concern.
In the past, the Department of Education would confirm the existence of individual investigations by its Office of Civil Rights. Now the department will post a comprehensive list of active investigations online and update it regularly. But a department spokesman stressed that an active investigation should not be construed as a sign that a school has violated the law.
Allison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the prevention of violence, substance abuse and crime on college campuses, called the disclosure of the Title IX investigations a positive move.
“I think the public should be aware of these things. We need to be aware of this as a country and create comprehensive programs that focus on change,” she said.
Department officials confirmed they began an investigation at Penn State in January when the university reported a record number of sexual assaults on its 2012 annual campus security report.
Campus Safety Magazine reported that the ACLU filed a Title IX complaint against CMU in December, claiming officials were dismissive of a student's allegations of sexual abuse.
CMU officials did not comment on the specifics of the investigation.
“We have been and will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The university takes very seriously its obligations under Title IX and its commitment to provide a safe and secure environment for our students and other members of the university community,” CMU spokesman Ken Walters said in an email.
Temple spokesman Raymond Betzner confirmed an investigation is under way at the Philadelphia university. “Temple has fully cooperated with the Office of Civil Rights and looks forward to a resolution of the matter,” he said.
Schools found in violation of Title IX could face penalties up to denial of federal funds.
“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,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said. “We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue. I also want to make it clear that a college or university's 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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