VCU investigated for how it addresses sexual violence

AP Newswire

Virginia Commonwealth University is under federal investigation for how it addresses sexual violence.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, VCU has been added to the list of 131 higher-education institutions under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Neither the university nor the federal office would disclose details of the case that put VCU on the list, which includes five other Virginia schools: the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, James Madison University, the University of Richmond and Washington and Lee University.

VCU this month put new procedures in place for addressing assault allegations, capping a yearlong effort to bring its Title IX polices into compliance. Madelyn F. Wessel, the university’s lawyer, told the VCU Board of Visitors on Thursday that bringing the university into compliance took “an extraordinary amount of time and institutional resources.”

She estimated the cost at $1 million, including the hiring of additional staff for the new Office of Equity and Access Services to oversee compliance.

Wessel said that unlike other types of discrimination complaints, OCR will initiate a Title IX investigation involving sexual violence “upon receipt of just a single complaint” without giving the school an opportunity to respond first.

For the 2014-15 academic year, VCU investigated 22 cases involving sexual assault, exploitation, harassment or interpersonal violence, according to information disclosed by the university under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Half of the cases are still pending. Of the 11 completed cases, five students were held responsible — one for interpersonal violence and four for forcible sexual assault. Two of the students held responsible in the assault cases were expelled; the other three completed cases were suspended.

Information on how the cases were resolved was not released but, under the university’s previous policy, the outcome could have been determined in a hearing that included students as peer judges.

Students will no longer have a voice in those decisions under VCU’s revised sexual misconduct policy. Now, investigators with formal training will make a recommendation to the university’s Title IX coordinator, using the “preponderance of evidence” civil standard for determining responsibility.

If either party objects to the finding, a review panel made up of trained faculty and staff, and potentially external professionals, will hear the case and determine the outcome and any sanctions.

Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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