James Madison U. faces federal investigation related to sexual violence issues

The federal government is investigating how James Madison University handles reports of sexual violence, making it the third public university in Virginia to face such scrutiny.

The Education Department listed JMU last week among 62 higher education institutions nationwide that are under investigation in connection with sexual violence issues and the anti-discrimination law known as Title IX.

The investigation was opened on June 4, according to the federal government. No further details were available.

A JMU statement said the school was aware of a complaint and is working with the Education Department but could not provide any details due to federal privacy laws.

“James Madison University takes very seriously any allegation of sexual assault and is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for every member of the JMU community,” the statement said.

JMU, with 20,181 students as of last fall, is a well-regarded regional public university in the Shenandoah Valley city of Harrisonburg.

The University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, and the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, are also on the federal list. The U-Va. investigation was opened in June 2011; the one at William and Mary began April 18.

The department on May 1 made public a list of 55 colleges and universities that face sexual violence investigations through its Office for Civil Rights. Since then, the government has issued weekly updates.

Federal officials have cautioned that no conclusions have been drawn that any of the listed schools violated the law.

The only D.C. school on the federal list is Catholic University, with an investigation that began Jan. 8. The only one in Maryland is Frostburg State University, where a probe started Sept. 18. Across the country, a growing number of students have pressed colleges for fair and prompt treatment of sex assault reports. President Obama has also highlighted the issue.

Sexual assault on campus is considered not only a crime but also a form of harassment prohibited under Title IX. The department’s Office for Civil Rights enforces the law.

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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