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FAYETTEVILLE -- Federal investigators want details from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville on the university's handling of two student reports of sexual assault and one male student's report of sexual harassment.

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Letter to UA on Title 9 complaints

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The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights on Wednesday made public two investigations it has opened into UA regarding the school's handling of sexual violence complaints.

UA spokesman Mark Rushing said the university is cooperating fully. UA is among 181 institutions under investigation by the Office for Civil Rights.

A nine-page Department of Education letter to UA outlined 25 information requests, including detailed records for three cases and also more general information, such as three academic years' worth of data on student reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

The letter, dated April 21, describes two issues for investigators. One is whether UA "provided prompt and equitable responses" to complaints of sexual harassment or sexual violence.

The other is whether any failure to do so allowed a "sexually hostile environment" that limited students' ability to participate in or benefit from university programs.

After reviewing information provided by UA, the Office for Civil Rights will decide whether to conduct an on-site investigation, the letter states, also noting that opening the inquiries "in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to their merit."

The federal Department of Education received complaints against UA on June 15 and Aug. 3 of last year, the letter states. Each complainant alleged discrimination by UA on the basis of sex because of how the university handled their reports of sexual assault or harassment.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs.

One complainant reported to UA he had been sexually harassed. He was also the subject of a complaint made against him by a female student, the letter states, and his discrimination allegation also relates to how UA handled the complaint against him.

The letter also lists two other complainants, each described as a woman reporting a sexual assault to UA.

"All of these matters relate to interactions between individuals who were students at the time," Rushing said in an email, adding that "the three matters identified by OCR arose out of complaints filed in 2014."

UA released the letter after a request made by the Democrat-Gazette under the state's public disclosure law. The university redacted information that may have identified students.

The letter, addressed to Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, asks for full records for each complainant's case, such as initial complaints made to any UA staff member or police officer, witness statements and investigative findings.

Under the law, college students reporting sexual violence can receive accommodations such as a no-contact order and also can opt for a campus judicial process, which may take place in addition to any police investigation.

But in the letter, investigators mostly ask UA for details about policies and procedures in responding to sexual violence and harassment.

A U.S. Department of Education spokesman wrote in an email that a sexual violence investigation "often examines the university culture." An analysis by The Chronicle of Higher Education found that investigations are, on average, taking longer than a year to resolve.

Before an investigation is concluded, universities can seek a voluntary resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights that involves monitoring by the agency. A resolution agreement may also follow if there is a finding of Title IX noncompliance.

Metro on 04/30/2016

Print Headline: UA focus of civil-rights probe

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Archived Comments

  • Foghorn
    May 1, 2016 at 3:19 p.m.

    Typical of a university with a $100M athletic program to sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug to deflect any negative publicity from the money makers. Others haven't escaped the scrutiny and neither should UA.

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