The Baltimore Sun is reporting that the University of Maryland at College Park is once again under federal investigation over how they respond to reports of sexual violence on campus. Even with recent changes implemented by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as to how Title IX cases are handled, many investigations stretch on for months or even years longer than they are supposed to under current rules. This is creating a backlog of campus investigations and raising questions of how seriously the university is taking its obligations.
The U.S. Department of Education has opened a third investigation into how the University of Maryland, College Park responds to reports of sexual violence on campus.
The department confirmed Wednesday that its Office for Civil Rights initiated an investigation on Dec. 6. Two other investigations were launched earlier this year.
The state’s flagship university is one of nearly 250 institutions across the country currently under investigation for possible violations of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex.
“We plan to fully comply and assist in the review process,” university spokeswoman Katie Lawson said in a statement. “Our commitment to a campus free of sexual misconduct remains steadfast.”
While the entire premise of these kangaroo court style tribunals is a farce to begin with, it’s easy to see how students may feel that the system isn’t functioning properly. And the complaints aren’t limited to just College Park. There are similar reports being looked into at Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, Mount Saint Mary’s University, Saint Mary’s College of Maryland and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
At College Park, the school’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct has faced complaints of insufficient funding, staffing and resources, leading to huge delays in response to allegations of sexual misconduct. Under Title IX guidelines, a response is supposed to be forthcoming within sixty days, but students frequently wait twice as long. At some Maryland schools, the waiting time has been as long as four years. Can you imagine if you had been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted and the police took four years to get back to you about the status of your case?
That brings us back to the ongoing complaint I’ve had with all of these stories. While it’s good that Betsy DeVos has taken steps to ensure that both the victim and the accused have access to a fair process, it doesn’t answer the question of why colleges are conducting criminal investigations in the first place. The people in charge of these inquisitions are not qualified to handle criminal investigations and, as we’re seeing in Maryland, they don’t have the resources to tackle the job even if they were.
If there’s a report of any form of sexual assault on campus, the first step in the process needs to be a call to the police. Once that’s done and a proper investigation is underway, the school is free to ensure that the student making the allegations has access to medical treatment, counseling and any other resources she may need. But the process of determining guilt and punishing the perpetrator has to be handled by law enforcement and the courts or else the entire farce is pointless. If the school makes their own determination of guilt they have no ability to lock the rapist away in jail. Expelling him from school simply releases a predator out into the community to victimize other women. Is that really so hard to understand?