For more than two months, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has been investigating Cornell for six unique allegations of Title IX violations — more than any of the 228 postsecondary institutions under investigation, as of Wednesday.
The civil rights office last week released several details related to the most recent investigation, which began on Jan. 25, in response to requests made by The Sun and other news media under the Freedom of Information Act.
The most recent investigation is into an allegation that Cornell did not respond quickly enough or equitably to the complainant based on the complainant’s sex.
“You alleged that the University discriminated against you, on the basis of your sex, by failing to respond promptly and equitably to complaints of sexual assault and retaliation that you and a … student … made,” The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights wrote to the complainant in January.
Complainants in the five other active investigations have claimed, among other things, that Cornell discriminated against them based on race, color or national origin; that Cornell escalated a no-contact order to a temporary suspension based on a student’s sex; and that Cornell’s failure to respond promptly to complaints of sexual assault led to a “sexually hostile environment,” The Sun previously reported.
The OCR, as part of an investigation opened in September, is also looking into a complaint that the University “failed to respond promptly and equitably to the complaint of sexual assault.”
Both letters are redacted to exclude certain records in open case files and to protect the identity of the complainants.
“Please note that opening Allegation 1 for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to its merit,” a compliance team leader notes in the Jan. 25 letter.
“During the investigation, OCR is a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient, and other sources, as appropriate.”
Part of that fact-finding effort took place Feb. 28 and March 1 when four lawyers from OCR visited Cornell’s Ithaca campus to listen to students about their experiences with Cornell Title IX Office investigators.
Attendees at those listening sessions said Cornell’s Title IX office had tried to keep their complaints behind closed doors and that Cornell Title IX investigators were slow and unresponsive, The Sun previously reported.
As part of the most recent investigation, OCR sent Interim President Hunter Rawlings a letter in which it asked him to “provide to OCR the information listed on the enclosed data request” within 20 days of the Jan. 25 letter.
The data requested by OCR from Cornell in the most recent case takes up two pages, but is completely redacted in the documents obtained by The Sun under an exemption allowing OCR to withhold records that could interfere with its enforcement of Title IX.
The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating 317 cases at 228 postsecondary institutions relating to Title IX, as of Wednesday, and Cornell is the only university with six active inquiries.
Only two other colleges — Kansas State University and Indiana University at Bloomington — have five active investigations.