August 18, 2016

Cornell Faces Fourth Federal Probe of Sexual Assault Policy

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The Department of Education announced today that it has opened a new investigation into Cornell’s handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints under Title IX.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights began this probe last week, simultaneously opening investigations at Princeton University and Duke University, according to POLITICO. Cornell has been scrutinized by the department four times and was last investigated in 2015, regarding “possible violations” of Title IX, The Sun previously reported.

Two students — Wolfgang Ballinger ’17 and a student using the name “John Doe” — have also filed suits against Cornell this summer, alleging that the University conducted sexual assault investigations against them “unlawfully,” The Sun reported.

Ballinger — who was charged with assaulting a female student at his Psi Upsilon fraternity house in January — claimed in his civil suit that the University’s “flawed” investigation of the incident did not comply with state regulation, according to court documents. The documents point out that a defendant must be allowed to prevent evidence and testify at a hearing under New York State Education Law.

Doe also filed a suit in May complaining that Cornell did not allow him a hearing before suspending him from school in accordance with a process he called “arbitrary and capricious.” He demanded that the University halt its disciplinary proceedings and pay him $500,000 in compensation for his suspension.

Both suits find fault with the University’s Policy 6.4, pointing out perceived disparities between Cornell’s internal system of justice and state education law. Policy 6.4 was criticized in a December 2015 report and is currently under revision; an updated version of the regulations is expected to be released on Aug. 31.

Cornell last faced Department of Education review in the summer of 2o15. Last year’s investigation was suspected to have been partially prompted by Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant J.D.’s ’88 March confession that the University’s processing of sexual assault complaints was taking longer than the 60 day requirement established under Policy 6.4.

Federal guidelines also dictate that these allegations should be processed in 60 days. However, Grant had attributed a more protracted timeline to both inadequate staffing and additional procedural steps, The Sun reported.

“We’re still trying to streamline the process and get the timeline more in line with [the requirements of Policy 6.4], but as we evaluate the value of a speedy process versus a thorough process, we’re opting for the thorough,” Grant said in March of 2015.

The opening of Cornell’s fourth federal probe mirrors a national proliferation of Title IX investigations at schools across the country. Over 300 separate Department of Education investigations are currently open and ongoing, according to The Huffington Post.

“Harassment investigations tend to be highly complex and often involve systemic issues, in addition to issues pertaining to specific students,” the Department of Education said in a statement this June. “As part of its investigation process, [the department] gathers information through a variety of methods such as data requests, interviews and site visits and analyzes all relevant evidence from the parties involved in the case to develop its findings.”

The department has also suffered from a lack of funding and subsequent inability to hire new personnel — a challenge made stark as sexual violence complaints have increased exponentially, the statement said. Several senators, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), have released statements calling for more substantial allocations to the department.

As the number of open cases and complaints have skyrocketed, trends show investigations tend to take more time to resolve, making the timeline of any query nebulous, according to The Huffington Post.

Cornell’s media relations department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the active investigation.

  • Alum

    Of course Cornell didn’t respond.

    This article doesn’t make clear what the investigation is about. Was the case brought by the female or the male (assuming the case involves one of each)?

  • Student fed up with the PC culture and whininess

    ^^ Alum, you shouldn’t assume female or male, there are other genders and you are hurting their feelings!
    Few days ago, I saw a poster in the hallway of Warren Hall (the hallway that leads into Mann Library) and it said “Gender isn’t binary” and you should say “ZIE/ZIM/ZIR” not He/His/Their or She/Her/Their.
    It’s not that Cornell is trying to make students “aware” of things, rather they are brainwashing them. Ridiculous.

    • Alum

      Was the “Gender isn’t binary” poster by Cornell (or a Cornell department) or by a student club? If it’s by a student club, then Cornell wouldn’t really be responsible for it. If it’s by Cornell, then that is really ridiculous.

  • Student fed up with the PC culture and whininess

    Phoebe Keller, care to direct us to the source? Couldn’t find anything on POLITICO. Please update the news with a link of the source.

  • Woman

    The “Dear Collegue” letter sent by the Department of Education put colleges on notice that they have to use the lowest standard of proof to expel or suspend a student accussed of sexual misconduct or risk federal funding.

    Currently, a male student is suing Cornell because he was suspended ( without due process) for allegedly pulling a female’s hair . He states that he was not allowed to tell his side of the story. Not sure what good it would do him . If it is a ” he said, she said” 9 out of 10 times the male is suspended or expelled.

    Look up FIRE and Help Save Our Sons. Heartbreaking stories of young men whose civil rights were not protected.

    Of course, actual assaults take place but we can not allow colleges to operate under the pressure of the almighty dollar. It’s disgraceful.

  • Alum

    The only way this will end is if more male students who were suspended/expelled unfairly, as you describe, file claims as in the above article or sue the university (so that they’re equally afraid of both sides). As it stands, if there’s a 50.01% chance (“more likely than not”) that the male did it, they will find against him.

  • Rights

    Colleges don’t want to be investigated by the Department of Education because if they are found to not follow the guidelines set forth they face financial repercussions.

    The problems got exponentially worse when the DOE lowered the standard of proof by which sexual misconduct cases must be judged. And they set guidelines that did not allow for due process of the accused. Also, Under the new guidelines a third party can file a complaint accusing someone of sexual misconduct even if the “victim”vehemently denies any misconduct took place. Example: A male student at a college out west was expelled from school on grounds of sexual misconduct because a “friend” of the girl he was dating claimed he shouldn’t have had sex with his date because she was intoxicated. The woman who had sex denied the sex was coerced and said it was consensual.

    So afraid of the wrath of the DOE, colleges have swung the pendulum from dismissing accusations of sexual misconduct to going 180 and suspending or expelling the accused because the DOE has set unreasonable rules.

    Accused students are faced with their only recourse: suing the colleges in a real court of law and not a kangaroo court.

    Take the 2 different suits that are currently brought against Cornell by suspended students. The first is from Ballinger whose accused went to the police and he is facing legal challenges. The second is from “John Doe” who is not facing any legal chargees. Both suits claim their civil rights were violated and Cornell’s process of handling their cases was flawed.