July 5, 2011
The University of Notre Dame and the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced a joint resolution regarding how the university would handle sexual harassment cases.
According to an Education Department press release, OCR initiated an investigation of the university's handling of student-on-student sexual harassment cases after reviewing previously filed cases against the university and after media coverage criticizing the university on how it handled complaints, including an incident in which a student committed suicide after reporting an assault. According to the Chicago Tribune, the investigation was opened after a student at Saint Mary's, the university's sister school, committed suicide nine days after accusing a Notre Dame student of sexual assault. The press release, however, noted that the investigation was not based on a complaint; instead, it was agency-initiated.
"No student can learn if they are fearful of sexual harassment or assault," said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali. "We launched this investigation to ensure that college students have an educational environment free from sexual violence and other forms of sexual harassment."
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Notre Dame voluntarily agreed to make "several minor modifications" to its existing sexual harassment policies. The university agreed to better publicize a clear explanation of how students can file complaints of sexual harassment and to use a "preponderance of evidence" standard to evaluate allegations.
Some students criticized the university for waiting too long to interview sexual assault suspects so in order to speed up the process, campus officials will be required to conclude investigations within 60 days of receiving a complaint. Officials will also grant complainants the right to appeal a decision, an option that was previously only given to accused students. The university will also provide alternative arrangements for complainants who do not want to share the same room with alleged assailants during hearings.
Though Notre Dame voluntarily agreed to the resolution, ND Newswire noted that doing so did not indicate that the university was not in compliance with Title IX, a law that prohibits sex discrimination at any institution that receives federal funding.
"Sexual misconduct can have no place at Notre Dame, and we are committed to continuing to protect the safety and human dignity of every student," said Rev. Thomas Doyle, C.S.C., vice president for student affairs at Notre Dame.
According to the press release, OCR will monitor the university to ensure that the agreed policies and procedures are implemented and carried out effectively.
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
"Civil Rights Office Announces Settlement Agreement on Discrimination Investigation at Notre Dame," ed.gov, July 1, 2011
"Notre Dame and Office of Civil Rights sign resolution agreement," newsinfo.nd.edu, July 1, 2011, Dennis Brown
"Notre Dame to regularly report on sex-assault cases," chicagotribune.com, July 3, 2011, Todd Lightly
"U. of Notre Dame to Clarify Sexual-Harassment Policies in Settlement With Education Department," chronicle.com, July 1, 2011, Molly Redden