The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights investigators will visit Cornell on Feb. 28 and March 1 in order to review the University’s compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, according to Sarah B. Affel, University Title IX Coordinator.
The visit will come nearly a month after the OCR announced its sixth open investigation against Cornell, the highest for any university in the nation, The Sun previously reported. All of these open investigations against Cornell are for alleged Title IX violations.
Although OCR campus visits are a standard part of OCR investigations, they often come toward the end of an investigation, and they often precede findings of wrongdoing.
“That the investigation has reached this stage, at least under the current crop of OCR investigators, almost always means OCR will find something wrong,” said Professor KC Johnson, Brooklyn College, a prominent authority on university Title IX matters after he co-authored a critically acclaimed book on the Duke lacrosse case in 2008.
Even though there are six open investigations against Cornell, the OCR probably will only visit once, according to Johnson.
“The purpose of these campus visits is supposed to be interviewing key actors in the campus discipline process, and since complaints filed by accusers usually make the same sort of points, a single visit often is all that’s needed.”
The University did not say whether or not any administrators would meet with OCR investigators.
Aside from possible meetings with administrators, the investigators will divide their time on the hill between holding focus groups and private office hours. The University will release locations and times for these events in an email later this month, according to Affel.
Johnson said that the focus groups vary in form — sometimes, OCR segregates the focus groups by gender or restricts group discussion to athletes or fraternity members — but when such groups are open to the entire campus, they tend to draw a “wildly non-representative” cohort of students.
“I’ve never seen an explanation from OCR as to why — if they’re going to take the trouble to do a focus group — they don’t try to make it representative of the campus as a whole,” Johnson said.
Johnson added that focus groups are always confidential and that representatives of the university are not present during the discussion.
Neither the University nor OCR has told The Sun what kind of feedback the investigators will seek at their focus groups and office hours.