WHAT IS GOING ON WITH TUFTS, TITLE IX, & THE OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS?

THIS DOCUMENT WILL BE PERIODICALLY UPDATED. IT IS INTENDED TO PROVIDE INFORMATION FOR MEMBERS OF THE TUFTS COMMUNITY.

DO NOT TREAT THIS AS A NEWS ARTICLE. FOLLOW THROUGH THE LINKS BELOW FOR PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SOURCES.

Relevant Documents & Articles

Voluntary Resolution Agreement (PDF), April 17.

Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force - Progress Report (PDF), April 18.

Resolution Letter (Word doc), April 28.

OCR Press Release (Web), April 28.

Tufts Press Release (Web), April 28.

Summary of Actions Taken to Address Sexual Misconduct at Tufts (PDF), April 28.

Campus-wide email from President Monaco to Students, Faculty, and Staff (PDF), April 28.

Letter to President Monaco from the TCU President (Web), April 28.

Tufts Daily article with quotes from administration (Web), April 29.

News articles: My Fox Boston (4/28), Buzzfeed (4/28), Bloomberg (4/28), Boston Globe (4/29), USA Today (4/29)

Further reading: “Sexual Misconduct Policy Reform at Tufts: 5 Years of Activism” (2/13)

UPDATE:

Joint Statement between Tufts University and Representatives and Organizers of Today’s Undergraduate Student Action, May 1.

Tufts Daily article on the rally, May 1.

Further news coverage: NECN (5/1), Chronicle of Higher Ed (5/2), Inside Higher Ed (5/2), Boston Globe (5/2).

UPDATE:

Statement from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon on Tufts University, May 9.
Further news coverage:
Inside Higher Ed (5/9), Huffington Post (5/9), Boston Globe (5/9).

UPDATE 5/09/2014: TUFTS RE-SIGNS VRA

According to a May 9 press release from the Department of Education, Tufts has “cured its breach” of the VRA. In a campus-wide email to the Tufts community, President Monaco also stated that Tufts has “reaffirmed” and “officially recommitted to” the VRA. This occurred after a meeting on Thursday, May 8 between President Monaco and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon. According to a May 9 article in the Boston Globe, this essentially means that Tufts “accepts” OCR’s finding that it was in violation of Title IX.

UPDATE 5/02/2014: WHAT HAPPENED AT THE RALLY?

[Read the other sections below first for background information.]

On May 1, Tufts student activists and allies rallied to stand with survivors, and to demand that Tufts comply with Title IX and support survivors. After a rally on the Tisch Roof, students marched to Ballou, where 12 of the organizers were allowed in to negotiate while many dozens of others remained outside the building in support. The organizers brought the demands of the petition with them. After five hours of negotiation, the several senior administrators and student organizers released a joint statement. The following agreements were reached:

Also of note, the joint statement framed this work as both prevention of and response to sexual violence at Tufts. In the past, the University has emphasized the first at the expense of the latter. The student action showed and organizers emphasized to administrators present the importance of acknowledging that sexual violence already occurs at Tufts and validating the experiences of survivors.

Many of the above agreements, particularly the new hires, interim measures, and the need for disciplinary guidelines, have been student demands throughout the Task Force this past year and since the Open Letter to the Administration published last April. These new agreements further advance the work done in the Task Force that resulted from student activism and the Open Letter.

---

The below sections were written prior to the rally on May 1.

I’m confused. What just happened?

In September 2010, a Tufts student and survivor filed a complaint against the University for mishandling her case after she reported being sexually assaulted. This complaint was filed to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which enforces a variety of laws and regulations including Title IX regulations. This was one of four that have been filed against Tufts in the past decade.

On April 17, 2014, Tufts and OCR reached a Voluntary Resolution Agreement (VRA) as a conclusion to that investigation. The VRA included a slew of different measures that Tufts voluntarily committed to taking, “in order to resolve the compliance concerns OCR identified through its investigation” (page 1, VRA). The VRA was signed by Mary Jeka, the Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Tufts.

According to Tufts’ press release and the Tufts Daily article, on April 22, Tufts was informed by OCR’s central office in Washington that the latter found its current policies in violation of Title IX regulations, and not just past policies. Tufts said that it was “disappointed by the department’s course of action” (Tufts Press Release) and called the noncompliance finding “unsubstantiated.” Essentially, Tufts is challenging OCR’s finding that the University is noncompliant with Title IX regulations. President Monaco told the Tufts Daily: “The central office would not meet with us, would not talk to us and would not give us any details about what they found … I could not, hand on heart, keep us within that agreement.”

On April 26, Mary Jeka sent the OCR a letter revoking Tufts’ signature from the VRA. This basically means that Tufts is insisting that it is not in violation of Title IX regulations, and is rejecting the findings of OCR’s Resolution Letter. This is the first time ever that a University has revoked an agreement with OCR.

On April 28, OCR sent Tufts a Resolution Letter, which is standard practice at the end of investigations. The Resolution Letter compiles information on OCR’s authority, facts found during the investigation, and findings on compliance and noncompliance with Title IX regulations. Tufts was found to have been in violation of several regulations in the past, and of a much smaller set currently.

On the same day, President Monaco sent a campus-wide email to students, faculty, and staff called “Update on Sexual Misconduct Prevention” that included information about these events as well as some of the administration’s justifications for withdrawing from the VRA.

In the Resolution Letter, OCR finds that Tufts’ revocation of the VRA is a breach of that same agreement. It has given Tufts 60 days to “cure” this breach, i.e. accept the findings of the Resolution Letter and re-sign and re-commit to the original VRA.

What is OCR and Title IX? What was the 2010 complaint about?

Title IX is a law that was first passed in 1972, which guarantees education free from gender discrimination. Maybe you’ve heard about it in reference to providing athletic opportunities equally to women as to men, which is one part of it. However, gender discrimination also includes sexual harassment and sexual assault. This means that, under Title IX, every student is entitled to an education free from sexual violence. When a student experiences sexual violence, they have the right for the university to respond quickly and fairly to ensure that the school becomes again a place where they can function fully and in a healthy way.

OCR is the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. It is the federal government agency responsible for the enforcement of Title IX, and has regional divisions across the country that carry out that goal. The office responsible for our investigation is located in Boston. OCR uses Voluntary Resolution Agreements as a method to help schools come into compliance with Title IX. Very rarely is a school found out of compliance.

The complaint filed in September 2010 stated that that the University failed to promptly and equitably respond to her report in January 2010 of sexual assault and her June 2010 written complaint of sexual assault and subsequent harassment.  The Student objected that the University’s investigation took too long, that the University did not provide her with appropriate interim protective measures during the investigation, and that the University’s actions and inactions subjected the Student to a continued hostile environment.        

In investigating the 2010 complaint, the OCR also researched other reports of sexual misconduct at Tufts. Some of the students they interviewed described additional violations of Title IX.

What was in the Voluntary Resolution Agreement?

The VRA is a 16-page document that Tufts and OCR signed towards the end of the investigation generated by the September 2010 complaint. It covers steps already taken by Tufts, agreements on further steps to be taken, and reporting requirements to OCR in the following areas:

  1. the position of the Title IX Coordinator
  2. the President’s Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force
  3. Feedback on Policies, Procedures, and Practices from Students
  4. Title IX Greivance Policies and Procedures
  5. Training for all staff involved in the process
  6. Documentation of investigations
  7. Remedies for the Student Complainant from 2010
  8. Other University-wide Remedies
  9. Complaint Reviews for the other Title IX complaints filed to the OCR
  10. Monitoring of Tufts on the above by OCR.

Why is Tufts revoking the Agreement?

First, Tufts is asserting that it is in fact compliant with Title IX. According to its April 28 press release, the administration has contacted the OCR office in Washington, ostensibly to ask for the finding to be reviewed, but has yet to hear back. Second, Tufts claims that it was not informed of the finding that current policies were noncompliant prior to the signing of the VRA.  For these two reasons, in its April 28 press release, the Tufts administration stated that:

“We could not, in good faith, allow our community to believe that we were not in compliance with such an important law. Revocation of the agreement in no way diminishes our commitment to moving forward with the steps included in that agreement or to continuing to enhance our policies and procedures. Indeed, many of those steps have already been taken.”

The Tufts Daily article, updated on April 30, stated that: “While Tufts administrators insist the alleged violation is a byproduct of OCR’s regional and central offices disagreeing, the Department of Education press secretary said Tufts has been aware of the circumstances since the university signed the agreement on April 17.”

Despite the assertion that they plan to take the steps outlined in the VRA anyway, Tufts’ revocation means that they (1) reject the finding that they are in violation of Title IX regulations, and (2) reject the authority of OCR to enforce the VRA, presumably until that finding is retracted.

Where did OCR find Tufts to currently be in violation of Title IX regulations?

First, it is important to note that OCR found that Tufts had been in violation of Title IX in a large number of ways when the complaint was filed in 2010, and Tufts has not contested this claim. OCR found that a hostile environment as defined by Title IX rules existed for the student who filed the complaint, and that Tufts must provide necessary monetary compensation for the student. Further, OCR found that while changes in Tufts’ policy have made us compliant with several of the Title IX regulations that we had been violating, we currently remain noncompliant with a smaller set of regulations.

OCR evaluated Tufts’ compliance in four categories: Title IX Coordinator, Notice of Non-Discrimination, Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures and Responses, and Retaliation.

Concerning federal regulations on the position of the Title IX Coordinator and on Retaliation, Tufts was found to be formerly noncompliant, and to now be in compliance.

Concerning federal regulations on a Notice of Non-Discrimination, Tufts was also found to now be in compliance, with one caveat:

“We note that, although the notice provides contact information for OCR, it includes inaccurate language about a “statute of limitations” for OCR complaints.  The University must replace that language to accurately describe OCR’s timeliness standards.” (page 19, Resolution Letter)

The area where Tufts was found to be currently noncompliant was in Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures and Responses. OCR noted that Tufts had many more violations of these regulations in the past and has remedied them, but that some violations still exist (explained in the bolded sections below):

OCR found that the University’s current sexual harassment/violence policies and procedures address some of the above shortcomings. …

 

However, OCR found that the University’s current sexual harassment/violence policies and procedures, including the Sexual Misconduct/Sexual Assault Policy and the Sexual Misconduct Adjudication Process implemented in September 2013, do not provide for the prompt and equitable response to sexual harassment/violence allegations as required by Title IX.  Until April 24, 2014, the policies and procedures did not designate a timeframe for resolving appeals.  On April 24, 2014, the University amended its policies and procedures to designate a thirty (30) day timeframe for the appeals process after receiving an appeal, which must be filed within 10 days of the complainant and accused’s required separate meetings with the Title IX Coordinator and the Dean of Student Affairs, at which time University will provide them with a copy of its decision.  OCR also noted that the SMAP has been recently revised to include an explicit statement that mediation will never be used for the resolution of issues of “sexual misconduct.”[1]

 

Specifically, the current policies and procedures do not make clear that interim measures (including academic adjustments and housing changes as necessary) are not only available but will be provided, state that the policies and procedures cover allegations of off-campus sexual harassment/violence that has effects in the University’s educational setting (the SMAP states only that the Title IX Coordinator will make a determination of whether the University has jurisdiction over allegations of conduct that occurred off campus), exclude inappropriate restrictions on the ability of the parties to discuss the investigation and proceedings with others (including friends) who may provide them with support and/or assistance during the process, or ensure that the processing of any related matters (such as other issues arising under the student Judicial Code such as theft or plagiarism) will not delay the prompt resolution of a complaint of sexual harassment/violence (the SMAP states that the investigation will not be limited to information provided by the parties or the violations outlined in the complaint).” (pages 21-22, Resolution Letter)

What happens now?

OCR has found that Tufts’ “revoking” of the Voluntary Resolution Agreement on April 26 is a breach of that Agreement:

On April 26, 2014, the University General Counsel wrote to OCR to indicate she was “revoking” her signature on the Agreement.  The General Counsel’s letter constitutes a breach of the Agreement the University signed on April 17, 2014.  Pursuant to Section 404 of the Manual, OCR is therefore notifying that OCR may initiate administrative enforcement or judicial proceedings to enforce the specific terms and obligations of the Agreement entered into by the University.  The University has sixty (60) calendar days from the date of this letter to cure its breach of the Agreement.” (page 25, Resolution Letter)

OCR pointed out in its April 28 press release that enforcing the Agreement can include cutting Tufts’ federal funds.

Under federal civil rights regulations, OCR may move to initiate proceedings to terminate federal funding of Tufts or to enforce the agreement. The office stands ready to confer with Tufts on how to come into compliance speedily.”

Tufts, in its April 28 press release, claimed that it would follow through on its commitments in the Agreement despite revoking it. It stated that the administration’s “repeated requests to speak with OCR in Washington about this new finding have been unsuccessful,” and that they “look forward to working with OCR to resolve this disagreement and to implementing all of the elements in the Voluntary Resolution Agreement.”

According to the April 29 Tufts Daily article, “Tufts University plans to meet with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the next week to determine whether its current sexual assault policy violates Title IX.” According to the same article, as updated on April 30, “Monaco said he is willing to sign a new agreement -- even one that acknowledges Tufts has violated Title IX -- as long as the OCR explains how the university has broken the law and ‘is very clear about what we have to improve.’”

What are campus activists asking for?

Campus activists from the Consent Culture Network and Action for Sexual Assault Prevention are asking that the Tufts administration immediately re-sign the VRA, and begin implementing the commitments within it and other student recommendations from the Seuxal Misconduct Prevention Task Force, including:

They are doing so through a petition and a rally on Thursday, May 1.

What can I do?

Got More Questions?

Contact us by messaging one of our facebook pages, emailing asaptufts@gmail.com or consentculturenetwork@gmail.com, or leaving a comment here (click “Insert” and then “Comment” in the menu).

If you have an urgent comment or criticism, feel free to email me directly at kumar.ramanathan@tufts.edu; I will respond or correct any errors as soon as possible.