Government Begins Civil Rights Probe of Sexual Assault Policy

The U.S. Department of Education began an investigation this week into the College’s new sexual assault discipline procedure, acting on a student’s complaint that the policy violates the Title IX gender discrimination statute.

The new policy, which administrators said will still go into effect this fall, mandates that a victim of a peer dispute produce corroborating evidence before the College’s Administrative Board begins a full investigation.

The complaint, filed June 4, argues that the corroboration requirement would bar sexual assault victims—the vast majority of whom are women—from adequate grievance procedures, violating federal guarantees of gender equality in education.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education has decided to proceed with its investigation. At the time the complaint was filed, an OCR spokesperson said that once the decision to go forward had been made, the investigation could last three to six months.

Heather Quay, a University attorney, said that Harvard is cooperating with the probe and is providing documents and records requested by the investigators.

The University’s General Counsel’s office declined further comment, and neither the lawyer representing the anonymous complainant nor OCR’s investigator was available for comment yesterday.

But in an interview on Wednesday University President Lawrence H. Summers said he was confident the Title IX complaint was without merit.

“The General Counsel’s office tells me that whatever the merits of the issue, in their judgment the Title IX complaint does not have legal validity,” Summers said.

Summers reiterated that the issue of the sexual assault policy is a complicated one and that he was interested to see the recommendations of a faculty committee charged with studying support services for sexual assault victims.

“I’m very concerned that we have an overall system that properly balances the need to deter and punish those who perpetrate sexual assaults with proper due process,” Summers said.

“I think the...committee report will make a very important contribution to getting us there,” he said.

College officials have defended the policy, saying the new preliminary evidence phase would spare both accused and accuser of long and painful investigations in cases that were destined to end without disciplinary action.

—Staff writer David H. Gellis can be reached at gellis@fas.harvard.edu.