The Obama administration sent shock waves through higher education in 2014 when it released a list of 55 schools that faced civil rights investigations related to their handling of sexual violence reports.
The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, now has 304 investigations underway related to sexual violence issues at 223 colleges and universities. Some schools have multiple open cases.
OCR’s actions are rooted in the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX. Many Republicans in Congress and other skeptics say OCR has overstepped its authority. They hope that the department will take a fresh look at OCR’s enforcement policies when Trump takes office.
Three cases were added to the list in the final days of Obama’s term. They are at the University of Maryland at College Park (opened Jan. 11), Oberlin College (Jan. 9) and Vanderbilt University (Jan. 13).
Here’s the full list:
When the first version of the list debuted in May 2014, Obama administration officials said they hoped it would help drive a national conversation on sexual violence. The mere inclusion of a school on the list did not indicate that a violation of federal law had occurred there, they said.
“We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said at the time. “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.”
However, the schools were not at all pleased to be spotlighted on the issue. They were even less pleased when many investigations continued for years without resolution.
There were long, arduous negotiations at several big-name schools to resolve investigations. Resolutions were announced at Ohio State in September 2014, at Harvard Law School in December 2014 and at the University of Virginia in September 2015.
Whether the incoming Trump administration will continue to release public lists of schools under investigation remains to be seen. Senate Democrats pressed Trump’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, for her views on Title IX and sexual assault during a confirmation hearing Tuesday.
DeVos indicated a strong possibility that she could take a different approach. The nominee told senators it would be “premature” for her to commit to following the guidance on Title IX that Obama’s OCR issued in 2011.