As Harvard faces renewed questions about its handling of sexual assault cases in the College, members of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights are still investigating a complaint against the Law School filed in 2010, which alleges that the school wrongly handled cases of sexual assault.
The complaint, filed by New England School of Law professor Wendy Murphy, is similar to a complaint filed last week by undergraduate activist group Our Harvard Can Do Better, outlining grievances with the College’s disciplinary system and informal accommodations process for alleged victims of sexual assault.
The undergraduate complaint came at the end of a week of heated debate surrounding sexual assault policy, largely triggered bya first-person, anonymous op-ed published in The Crimson last week. On the day the complaint was filed, University President Drew G. Faust also announced the creation of a University-wide task force, which she wrote was the product of “consultation with deans and others over recent weeks,” focused on community awareness and prevention efforts regarding sexual assault and misconduct.
The Law School’s case, which could result in a loss of federal funds if the school is found to be in violation, remains open nearly four years after the complaint was filed. In the complaint, Murphy alleged that the Law School’s administrative process of hearing sexual assault cases was not “prompt and efficient” and called for an adoption of the “preponderance of evidence” standard for determining guilt, which has become the norm across much of the Ivy League.
Law School spokesperson Robb London confirmed that the complaint was still pending in a written statement on Monday.
“Separately, HLS has participated in a University-wide review of Harvard's Title IX policies and procedures,” London wrote, referring to a Harvard-wide policy review launched in May 2013. “The review is nearing completion.”
The Department of Education’s press office was not able to provide information about its investigation at the time of this article’s publication.
Bernice R. Sandler, who worked with Congress to pass Title IX in 1970 and now serves as a senior scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute, suggested that a number of reasons could contribute to the delay.
"Sometimes [the Department of Education is] slow, sometimes they're very busy...and sometimes schools use delaying tactics,” Sandler said. “Four years is a little long.”
While the OCR often revokes federal funds from public institutions as a form of punishment, private institutions such as Harvard are less affected by such fines. Instead, private institutions often settle complaints through a memorandum of understanding, which typically stipulates administrative changes and publicly displays the institution’s mishandlings, according to Sandler.
"[Elite colleges] are more visible for what they're doing and not doing," Sandler said, referencing the significant amount of press coverage that followed the allegations of last week’s Title IX complaint.
After facing a similar complaint in 2012 that was investigated by the OCR, Yale University reached an agreement with the OCR and adopted a lower burden of proof known as “preponderence of evidence.” At the time, Secretary of the Administrative Board John “Jay” L. Ellison stated that Harvard did not intend to make changes to the University’s policies but would “learn from [Yale].”
The College, which relies on the “Sufficiently Persuaded” standard of evidence, is one of only two Ivy League schools not to have adopted the more progressive standard embraced by Yale.
Murphy said she is frustrated that her complaint has yet to be resolved.
“Harvard says they have zero tolerance for violence against women. Then why do they refuse to apply the preponderance standard of proof?” Murphy wrote in an email. “The effect of such a rule is tantamount to declaring the word of a woman less valuable, less credible and less worthy than the word of her attacker.”
—Staff writer Tyler S. Olkowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @OlkowskiTyler.