The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating Stony Brook University and 75 other colleges and universities across the nation for their handling of sexual violence cases, federal officials confirmed Thursday.
The university is under investigation for its compliance with Title IX, a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on sex under any education program receiving federal funds.
“We are aware that an individual filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, and because it is a pending complaint we are unable to provide any additional information,” SBU’s media relations officer Lauren Sheprow said in an email.
The investigation started on July 23, 2014, according to a document sent to The Statesman by the U.S. Department of Education. However, the department will not disclose any case-specific facts or details while the investigation is ongoing.
On June 29, The Statesman published an article on Stony Brook University’s policies on sexual assault and harassment complaints. University policies forbid parties involved in sexual assault investigations from using recording devices or having legal counsel present during proceedings.
The Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action (ODAA) collaborates with University Community Standards, which investigates Title IX complaints against students, and Employee and Labor Relations, which investigates complaints against faculty members and other university employees.
On June 5, 2014, the university announced that Raúl Sánchez, the former senior director for Title IX and Risk Management, was replaced by Marjolie Leonard, the interim director of ODAA, after Sánchez was in the position less than a year.
Stony Brook University was awarded a $270,000 grant by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women in 2012 for its sexual assault prevention programs. However, 17 forcible sexual offenses were reported on the Stony Brook campus in 2012—four more than in 2011 and 10 more than in 2010, according to the University Police Department’s 2013 Annual Security and Fire Report.
In the state of New York, the U.S. Department of Education is also investigating CUNY Hunter College, Elmira College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Pace University, Saint Thomas Aquinas College and Sarah Lawrence College. The department has ended its investigation of Binghamton University after announcing the investigation in May.
In October 2013, the OCR reached an agreement with the State University of New York to ensure Title IX compliance. The investigation that led to this agreement was not based on a complaint filed by individual. However, the OCR did review 159 individual cases of alleged sexual harassment from SUNY Albany, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Buffalo State College and Morrisville State College during the investigation.
The OCR investigates a discrimination complaint by using techniques such as “reviewing documentary evidence submitted by both parties, conducting interviews with the complainant, recipient’s personnel, and other witnesses, and/or site visits,” according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
If the OCR determines that a university failed to comply with the law, the office will try to get the university to reach a resolution agreement. The OCR would then monitor the university’s implementation of the terms of the agreement.
If the university refuses to negotiate an agreement, the OCR may cut off the university’s federal financial assistance or refer the case to the Department of Justice.
Both the complainant and the university can agree to a resolution negotiated by the OCR prior to the conclusion of an investigation. The complainant also has the right to appeal the OCR’s decision or sue the university in federal court.