The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recently entered into a Resolution Agreement with the University of Virginia. The Resolution Agreement was the result of a Title IX investigation that was opened by OCR in June of 2011.
The announcement of this Resolution Agreement (along with a letter directed to the University of Virginia) follows the recent announcement of the entering into of a Resolution Agreement between OCR and Michigan State University, which I wrote about at length. After the spotlight being focused on the length of time it has been taking OCR to complete Title IX investigations, these recent Resolution Agreements may represent a trend and emphasis by OCR on getting closure on these investigations.
For the purpose of this post, I will not go to great lengths to review the particulars of the University of Virginia Resolution Agreement. Rather, I will summarize the highlights of the agreement borrowing liberally from the press release issued by the Department of Education.
OCR lauded UVA’s recent efforts and policy adoptions to address sexual violence and sexual harassment. OCR even stated that UVA’s new Title IX policy ” … is the first university policy OCR has found to be fully compliant with Title IX since the release of OCR’s April 2014 Frequently Asked Questions document.”
Despite this finding, OCR found that its investigation revealed that prior to the adoption of their new policy UVA had a mixed record of meeting its Title IX obligations in responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence. Among the concerns noted by OCR were the following:
- From 2008-2012, UVA did not promptly and equitably respond to some sexual violence complaints (including those involving fraternities); and
- Prior to the adoption of its new policy, UVA’s policies to investigate and respond to sexual violence were not fully compliant with Title IX (the process was not fair to the parties, its Title IX notice was not adequately distributed, and UVA’s Title IX coordinator did not adequately coordinate the university’s Title IX compliance responsibilities under Title IX.)
By entering into the Resolution Agreement prior to the completion of OCR’s investigation, UVA agreed to undertake various actions in order to address compliance concerns that were identified by OCR as a part of its investigation that was not concluded. As summarized by OCR, UVA agreed to:
- Continue to follow its revised Title IX policies;
- Ensure that UVA’s agreements with student organizations – including fraternities and sororities – clearly state that sexual harassment, sexual violence and retaliation are prohibited and that the failure of an organization’s student members to comply with the Title IX policy may result in the university severing all ties with the organization. The agreements will also state that UVA has the authority to investigate reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence against members of the student organization and to determine appropriate sanctions;
- Develop and implement a system for tracking and reviewing all reports, investigations, interim measures and resolutions of student and employee conduct that may constitute sexual harassment or sexual violence, to ensure that such reports are adequately, reliably, promptly, and impartially investigated and resolved;
- Provide training to ensure that all members of the UVA community – including students, faculty, administrators and other staff – are trained regularly on issues related to sexual harassment and sexual violence, the requirements of Title IX, and the university’s policies and procedures when a student reports possible sexual harassment and sexual violence;.
- Improve outreach to and feedback from students, including conducting focus groups, conducting an annual climate assessment to determine students’ attitudes and knowledge regarding sexual harassment and sexual violence, determine whether students know to whom and how to report such conduct, identify potential barriers to reporting, and solicit input on how the university can encourage reporting of sexual harassment and sexual violence and better respond to such reports; and
- Review all complaints heard by the University Sexual Misconduct Board during the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years to determine whether each complaint was handled appropriately and take action to address any problems identified through that review, including providing appropriate remedies that may still be available to the complainants in these cases and remedies that may be necessary to address the climate of the larger university community.
- Submit to OCR for review and approval copies of all reports and complaints alleging sexual harassment and sexual violence, filed by students during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, as well as documentation of the university’s response to these complaints.
Many of these items overlap with the undertakings agreed to by Michigan State University, most noteworthy being the last two bulleted items above. It can easily be expected that these, or similar items, will be required of any higher educational institutions being investigated by OCR for Title IX compliance.