The Department of Education (ED) resolved a Title IX investigation into the University of Chicago this month just 42 days after the investigation was opened.
The Title IX complaint that prompted the investigation alleged three violations. The ED dismissed two of the allegations, determining that only the third was timely and under its jurisdiction. The ED ultimately closed the investigation citing “insufficient evidence.”
The attorney who filed the April 18 complaint on behalf of a female student, Legal Director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) Christine Evans, said in an interview that this was “not entirely surprising,” as the ED loosened its enforcement of Title IX under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in interim guidance issued on September 22.
“The new guidance that was issued and the rollback of the guidance from the Obama administration shows that the Department of Education is going to be taking a very reduced role in addressing violations of sexual assault,” Evans said Friday, before receiving notice of the investigation’s closure. “There seems to be renewed interest at the Department of Education to protect perpetrators of sexual assault.”
The complaint alleged discrimination on the basis of sex and retaliation after the complainant made a report to the University that appears to have alleged some form of misconduct by another student.
The case was opened on September 1 and the ED had yet to respond to a September 14 request for case documents when the case was closed on October 13. The Maroon received redacted documents on October 18.
Evans confirmed Monday that she received notice from the ED that it closed the investigation finding no violation.
“It's very disappointing, but what I can say is there are still open investigations into the University of Chicago. We here at CAASE currently represent three other complainants in the two investigations still open with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR),” she said in an e-mail.
The investigations that appear to remain active were opened on June 28, 2013 and February 3, 2016. The ED closed in August an additional investigation that was opened in February 2016.
The University was notified of the most recent investigation in a September 1 letter to Senior Associate General Counsel Theodore Stamatakos. The letter read, “Specifically, the Complainant alleges the University discriminated on the basis of sex from [redacted] when it failed to provide a student (Student A) with a prompt response to her report of [redacted] (Student B).”
The letter requested a significant amount of information from the University within 20 calendar days, though the 12-item list of requested information was redacted in the document the ED sent The Maroon.
The ED informed Evans in a letter that day that the ED was opening an investigation into one of the three allegations that she reported on behalf of her client. The three reported violations were:
- “The University subjected her to a hostile environment on the basis of sex from [redacted] and another student [redacted] following her report of [redacted]”
- “The University and another student retaliated in respect to [redacted]”
- “The University discriminated on the basis of sex from [redacted] when it failed to provide her with a prompt response to her report of [redacted].”
The ED dismissed the first report, saying it was not filed promptly, and it dismissed the second report “for failing to state a violation of one of the laws OCR enforces.” The ED opened an investigation into the third reported violation, finding it timely and under its jurisdiction, though ED spokesperson Jim Bradshaw confirmed in an e-mail Monday that the investigation was closed on October 13 due to “insufficient evidence.”
“It is not a surprising result, as the complaint fell under guidance that has unfortunately been rescinded,” Evans said. “It is still a disappointing result, however, for our client and other survivors seeking a fair response to their complaints at the University of Chicago.”
The University has touted recent improvements to its policies and practices related to Title IX. Evans said that based on her experience representing University of Chicago students, there are lingering issues with UChicago's handling of sexual misconduct cases.
University spokesperson Marielle Sainvilus provided a general statement to The Maroon Monday, stating that the University “cannot comment on any open investigations” and listing a number of actions it has taken it recent years. With the resolution of the OCR complaint, there is no open investigation in relation to the Title IX complaint.
“The University recently received a notice on October 13 that the OCR dismissed the complaint with a finding of no violation,” she wrote. “In addition, the OCR concluded that the University’s response to the Title IX complaint was reasonably prompt and consistent with the requirements of Title IX.”
“As provided to The Maroon before, the University is committed to addressing and preventing unlawful harassment, discrimination, and sexual misconduct and continues to make substantial steps to enhance efforts to prevent such incidents and to respond in a prompt, equitable and thorough manner whenever they occur. Some of the changes include:
· In September of 2016, the University launched mandatory sexual misconduct prevention and response training for all members of the University community, including all students, faculty, other academic appointees, postdoctoral researchers, and staff
· Starting in 2015 and continuing in 2016, the University redesigned existing sexual misconduct training provided to all first-year students in the College during the ‘O-Week’ orientation program
· In 2016 the University created the new position of Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Students and Associate Dean of Students in the University, focusing solely on student concerns related to sexual misconduct
· Provided enhanced training to staff who could be involved in receiving student complaints of sexual misconduct, including staff in College housing, student counseling, athletics, and College advisors.
· Developed enhanced training for those involved in the intake and resolution of sexual misconduct complaints, including for members of the University-wide Disciplinary Committee, which adjudicates sexual misconduct complaints where a student is the accused
· Developed print resources for faculty, other academic appointees, and staff who are required to report instances of sexual misconduct to the Title IX Coordinator in order to ensure their response is trauma-informed and compliant with University policy
· Designed http://provost.uchicago.edu/titleix to serve as a campus-wide resource regarding sexual misconduct and updated our student site, http://umatter.uchicago.edu
· The Office of the Provost Sexual Misconduct Student Advisory Board as a liaison between the student body and the Provost’s Office and provides input on policies, procedures, and programs pertaining to sexual misconduct
· The Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Students holds weekly open office hours for students in order to encourage dialogue between students and the administration regarding sexual misconduct issues
· In Spring 2015 the University conducted its first campus climate survey focusing on issues of sexual misconduct.”