Notebook

University subject of federal Title IX probe

By W. Raymond Ollwerther '71
Published in the June 1, 2011, issue


The Office for Civil Rights of the federal Department of Education is investigating the University after receiving a complaint alleging Title IX violations that grew out of a Princeton disciplinary case that was concluded last year.

Jim Bradshaw, a department spokesman, said the complaint alleges that Princeton discriminated against a female student on the basis of her sex by failing to respond appropriately to her complaint of sexual assault. In addition, the complaint alleges that the University failed to adopt and publish grievance procedures that provide for the “prompt and equitable resolution of student complaints of sex discrimination/harassment, including sexual assault.”  

The complaint was filed by Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law who has been involved in Title IX complaints filed against Harvard Law School, Hofstra University, and the University of Virginia. Murphy said the case “arose out of my involvement in a matter at Princeton,” but said she could not provide details.  

Princeton spokeswoman Emily Aronson said the OCR complaint “relates to a disciplinary matter that happened last year.” She declined further comment on the investigation.    

Title IX is a 1972 federal civil-rights law that prohibits ­discrimination on campus on the basis of gender. The OCR complaints involve applying the law’s provisions to the ways that schools deal with issues of sexual assault and ­harassment.

On April 4, the Department of Education announced new guidelines “to remind schools of their responsibilities to take immediate and effective steps to respond to sexual violence.” The guidelines include procedures to follow when a complaint is filed, and state that schools must use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to resolve complaints of sexual harassment or violence.  

Princeton’s Committee on Discipline has used a standard of evidence that “constitutes a clear and persuasive case in support of the charges,” as outlined in the University’s Rights, Rules, Responsibilities guide.

Murphy said the use of a higher standard of proof in sexual assault cases has a “chilling effect” on the filing of complaints. Adopting the “preponderance of evidence” standard would encourage more reports of assaults, she said.  

Aronson said that as of May 6, the University was still reviewing the OCR guidelines and had not yet determined what policies, if any, would need to be revised.
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