The law school at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, violated Title IX guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment cases and has agreed to review two years of cases, the Department of Education announced in a news release Tuesday. The law school and government officials agreed on improved policies in lieu of punishment.
"I am very pleased to bring to close one of our longest-running sexual violence investigations, and I congratulate Harvard Law School for now committing to comply with Title IX and immediately implement steps to provide a safe learning environment for its students," Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said in the release.
Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, outlaws sex-based discrimination in any school getting financial aid from the federal government. This includes schools' responses to sexual violence cases.
Harvard Law School's current and past sexual harassment procedures were neither fast nor fair, according to the release. The investigation specifically addressed an incident in which the school took a year to make a decision on a case involving an accused student's appeal. The alleged victim wasn't allowed to participate in the process, and the accused student won the appeal, reversing his expulsion. The complaint was ultimately dismissed.
To remedy the Title IX violations, Harvard Law School now must allow both parties -- the accuser and the accused -- to appeal decisions. Harvard Law School has appointed a Title IX coordinator and adopted the "preponderance of the evidence" standard. Other changes have to be approved by the office of civil rights before they take effect.
Harvard debuted a new, universitywide sexual harassment policy in July creating a centralized office for complaints, among other changes. The policy took effect at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, a university news release said.
“Harvard is deeply committed to fostering an educational environment free of gender-based discrimination, particularly sexual misconduct and sexual violence, to acting vigorously on reports of discrimination, and to supporting those who have experienced it,” President Drew Faust said in the release. “This new, progressive policy -- alongside the new, centralized procedures for investigating reports -- will significantly enhance Harvard’s ability to address these incidents when they occur."
As part of the education department agreement, Harvard Law School will re-examine all sexual harassment complaints from 2012 to 2014 to see if the school handled them correctly under Title IX rules. If not, they have to be rectified.
Harvard Law School is not the first Ivy League institution forced to change its procedures after a Title IX investigation. Princeton University was found in violation in November, and Dartmouth College and Brown University are among the roughly 92 colleges still under investigation.
Harvard College for undergraduates also remains under investigation.