The Dept. of Ed. Names Names: ‘Transparency’ or Political Pressure?

by Robert Shibley

Hey, I like pillorying colleges and universities for screwing up as much as the next guy. But there’s a wrong way and a right way to do it. 

In the supposed name of “transparency,” the Department of Education has released the names of 55 colleges and professional schools that are “under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.” 

Unfortunately, that’s where the transparency ends. If you want to know more about what those 55 schools are accused of doing, you are simply out of luck. The Department of Education is not releasing any more information about what’s going on at those schools—not even redacted versions that would protect the identity of complainants and the accused while also giving the public a sense of what has allegedly gone wrong at these schools.

As Brooklyn College Professor KC Johnson asks in Minding the Campus

How far will the administration go in the name of transparency? The AP headline, for instance, is “55 US schools face federal sex assault probes.” All that means, of course, is that members of a loosely-coordinated group of activists have filed complaints with OCR. But to an average reader, the headline seems jarring–”sexual assaults,” a commonly understood term, apparently uninvestigated, on 55 campuses. But how many of these 55 colleges actually define “sexual assault” in the way virtually every state’s criminal code does? Or do some or all of these 55 schools define “sexual assault” to include things like a single, drunken grope at a party, or even (such as Yale) as “economic abuse”?

Unless you can get the colleges to tell you what they’re being accused of (unlikely, since they live in fear of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights), this is all the Department is ever going to tell you:

The Department will not disclose any case-specific facts or details about the institutions under investigation. The list includes investigations opened because of complaints received by OCR and those initiated by OCR as compliance reviews. When an investigation concludes, the Department will disclose, upon request, whether OCR has entered into a resolution agreement to address compliance concerns at a particular campus or found insufficient evidence of a Title IX violation there.

So you get to hear about the accusation, and that’s it until there is a “resolution agreement,” which could be years down the road. One could be forgiven for wondering if this supposed nod towards “transparency” is actually just a way to put political pressure on the universities named to settle with OCR.