Editorial: Alarming tendency on campus

Jul. 10, 2014 @ 05:25 PM

A little more than two months ago, the Education Department released a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for handling of sexual abuse complaints in compliance with Title IX.

Included were UNC Chapel Hill and Guilford. The list was broad, with public and private, small and large. Recognizable names like Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State, Vanderbilt and Virginia were now linked with Knox and Swarthmore colleges, even Ivy Leaguers Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth.

Title IX, signed into law in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, bars gender discrimination. Schools in violation can lose funding from the Education Department, something that hasn’t been happening in favor of negotiated voluntary resolutions for violators.

That news was toppled this week by release of Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s survey. The former prosecutor sought information from 350 four-year schools of various sizes and types, the 50 largest public universities and the 40 largest private nonprofit universities with at least 15,000 students each.

Two out of three responded. Feedback came from 98 percent of the largest public schools and 85 percent of the large private schools.

Against the backdrop of an estimated 1 in 5 female college students at some point being sexually assaulted, 1 in 5 colleges responding to the survey give athletic departments oversight over sexual violence involving student-athletes.

Couple that with many college coaches who work in environments where their leadership would prefer they not talk to their players’ — err, student-athletes’ — professors.

That’s just a small, bad taste of the report. Her work also found 40 percent of schools have not conducted even one sexual-violence investigation in the past five years; students are allowed to help adjudicate sexual assault cases at 40 percent of the largest public schools; and sexual assault response training doesn’t exist for students in nearly 1 of 3 schools, or for faculty and staff in 1 of 5 schools.

The findings are alarming, even acknowledging the disagreement in verbal accounts, lack of witnesses or evidence, and impaired judgments or memories.

Colleges and universities, as well as the Education Department that hasn’t enforced Title IX, have been enablers. Their rules and protections must accelerate to meet the society we live in.

Anything less is a failing grade for the students they wish to educate.