OCR and SUNY Reach Title IX Agreement

The U.S. Department of Education announced today that its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has entered into an agreement with the State University of New York (SUNY) to ensure compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) by SUNY and each of its 29 state-operated campuses.

OCR independently initiated the investigation to review SUNY’s practices to ensure that SUNY and each of the 29 state-operated campuses respond promptly and effectively to allegations of sexual harassment, including sexual violence. OCR’s investigation was not based on a complaint filed by an individual. SUNY is the largest comprehensive statewide system of public higher education in the United States; therefore, in terms of the number of students and staff attending institutions subject to its terms, this agreement has the largest impact of any of its kind regarding sexual violence.

During the course of the investigation, SUNY worked collaboratively with OCR and implemented a number of actions in accord with OCR’s 2011 guidance on sexual violence in an effort to improve its response to complaints of sexual violence and sexual harassment. SUNY has further agreed to continue this commitment by voluntarily entering into a resolution agreement that will impact students and staff, totaling almost 290,000 people each year, on its 29 state-operated campuses.

“I applaud SUNY for its willingness to show leadership by improving its efforts to address and prevent sexual harassment on its campuses,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. “Nearly 219,000 students across the 29 state-operated campuses may now expect to go to school in an environment free from sexual violence and other forms of sexual harassment, thanks to this resolution. We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with SUNY to implement this agreement.”

OCR concluded that grievance procedures adopted by SUNY and/or individual campuses were to provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual assault and violence. In addition, OCR reviewed 159 individual cases of alleged sexual harassment from four of SUNY’s individual campuses visited during the review (SUNY Albany, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Buffalo State College, and SUNY Morrisville). OCR determined that the vast majority of these cases involved reports of sexual assault or violence sufficiently serious to create a sexually hostile environment for the affected students. In some of the instances, OCR found deficiencies, including complainants not receiving prompt or adequate investigations of their complaints; not receiving notice of the outcomes of their complaints; not being provided equal opportunities to attend prehearing conferences and/or present evidence and witnesses at the hearing.

In part, the comprehensive resolution agreement commits SUNY and each of the 29 state-operated campuses, to initiate or continue the following actions:

  • Provide notice of nondiscrimination and have a designated Title IX Coordinator at SUNY and at each of the campuses.
  • Conduct Title IX complaint investigations promptly instead of waiting for the conclusion of criminal investigations; SUNY may, however, temporarily suspend its Title IX fact finding while a law enforcement agency is gathering its evidence.
  • Provide interim relief for the complainant, if needed.
  • Review annually all sex discrimination complaints and take action to address any patterns or systemic problems identified.
  • Ensure that grievance procedures comply with Title IX requirements.
  • Ensure students and staff are aware of Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination; how to recognize it when it occurs; and how to report incidents.
  • Seek input from the campus community, including from past complainants, and conduct periodic assessments of the campus climate in order to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of the campus’s implementation of its sexual harassment policies and procedures and to inform its future proactive steps to provide a safe environment for students that is free of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

In addition, each of the individual campuses that OCR visited must reexamine all sexual harassment/violence complaints filed during and since academic year 2011-2012. SUNY must report to OCR the actions it will take to correct problems identified in the manner in which these four campuses handled those complaints, which may include providing individual remedies for students.

OCR will closely monitor SUNY’s implementation of the agreement.

A copy of the resolution letter can be found here: http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/suny-new-york-letter.doc

A copy of the agreement can be found here: http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/suny-new-york-agreement.doc

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