The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has opened a sixth inquiry into alleged mishandling of sexual assault investigations by Cornell University, making Cornell the college with the most active Title IX investigations in the nation.
The investigations against Cornell include allegations that the university ignored key evidence, failed to respond promptly and fairly to a reported sexual assault, and discriminated against a student based on race, color or national origin by not correctly investigating a sexual assault complaint, according to four notification letters obtained by The Chronicle of Higher Education through the Freedom of Information Act.
A Cornell spokesman said he had no comment on Wednesday night. An Education Department spokesman also declined to comment, citing department policy.
The sixth and most recent federal Title IX investigation began on Jan. 25, bringing Cornell’s active investigation total above that of Indiana University of Bloomington, which has five open cases. Open cases do not mean that a university has violated Title IX, only that the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights has determined the need to gather additional facts and investigate.
“Please note that opening these allegations for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to their merit,” the Education Department wrote in the four notification letters sent to Cornell.
An unnamed person filed a complaint on behalf of a Cornell student in August of 2016, alleging that the University discriminated against the student based on race, color or national origin “by failing to respond promptly and equitably to a complaint of sexual assault.”
The complainant claimed that during Cornell’s investigation of an alleged sexual assault, the judicial administrator “drew negative inferences from language and cultural differences,” disregarded polygraph results, asked inappropriate questions and dismissed testimony that was favorable to the student.
Cornell also failed to fully review evidence of inconsistencies in one student’s account of the incident and ignored testimony that raised questions about the student’s credibility, according to the complainant.
The longest-running active investigation was filed in May of 2015 and alleged that Cornell discriminated against a student based on that student’s sex by “escalating the interim measure from a no-contact order to a temporary suspension, without cause.”
When that suspension was successfully appealed, the student claimed, Cornell required the student to avoid the campus unless they were attending class, the health center or had advance permission.
One student, in a Title IX investigation opened in December of 2015, alleges that the University did not respond promptly and equitably to both informal and formal complaints of sexual assault and retaliatory harassment by a student. The university’s alleged noncompliance resulted in a “sexually hostile environment,” the student claims.
The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights opened another investigation in June of 2016 after a student claimed that Cornell had not responded promptly and equitably to a reported sexual assault during the spring 2015 semester.
No information is yet available for the two most recent Title IX investigations, which the Education Department opened in September 2016 and January 2017.