The University of Maryland joined a list of 223 colleges and universities under investigation by the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights for its handling of sexual violence issues.
This university’s case opened Jan. 11 and was one of five new cases added in the final weeks of former President Barack Obama’s administration, which prioritized the fight against sexual violence on college campuses for the past six years.
Sexual violence is prohibited under the federal anti-discrimination law Title IX, according to the education department’s guidance in a 2011 Dear Colleague letter. This university established its first office dedicated to Title IX complaints in 2014, and has since expelled seven students for sexual assault.
President Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, said she was not ready to pledge to adhere to the 2011 federal guidelines during her confirmation hearing Jan. 17, and department officials declined to comment on this university’s case because protocol may change under the new administration.
University President Wallace Loh and other university officials were not aware of the investigation before answering questions from a Diamondback reporter Jan. 19.
“The University recently learned of an individual complaint prompting a review by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights on possible Title IX violations,” university spokesman Brian Ullmann wrote in an email. “We plan to fully comply and assist in the review process.”
Student Government Association President Katherine Swanson said discussing the investigation is the “first thing on [her] agenda” when she meets with Loh at the start of the spring semester.
The SGA proposed an annual $34 student fee in September to bolster what some students believe is an underfunded and understaffed Title IX office, but the proposal was withdrawn after the university later announced it would fund six new positions on the campus to address sexual misconduct.
“My initial thought is like, ‘We told you so,'” Swanson said in a Jan. 19 interview. “But I don’t know what’s going to happen, and honestly, I don’t know if [Loh] knows yet.”
Since Jan. 1, four other cases were also added to the list of pending investigations at the following colleges: Oberlin College, Vanderbilt University, State University of New York at Plattsburgh and Ohio State University.
Among more than 220 colleges and universities, at least 304 sexual violence investigations remain open. The number of annual OCR complaints regarding sexual violence at a postsecondary level has increased by more than 800 percent since fiscal 2011, according to the OCR’s 2016 annual report.
This university’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct has seen an increasing caseload since it first opened. The office handled 243 reports last academic year, leading to 56 investigations.
These investigations and resolutions often take twice as long to complete as the recommended 60 business days.
“We generally lack, and still do to a large extent, the significant infrastructure needed to address these issues and to respond effectively and promptly as we’re required to do under Title IX,” this university’s Title IX Officer Catherine Carroll told the University Senate in October. “We’re a work in progress. We’re building the ship as we’re driving the ship.”
This university is also facing a federal lawsuit from a former student seeking $5 million. The man claims he should not have been expelled and was denied due process after the university ruled he sexually assaulted a female student in on-campus housing.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated when the SGA withdrew its student fee proposal. The SGA withdrew the fee after the university announced the creation of six new positions to address sexual misconduct. This story has been updated.