Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University (Licensed under Creative Commons / August 12, 2014)

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating Johns Hopkins University for its handling of a sexual-assault complaint, the university announced in a campus-wide email on Tuesday. University officials were notified of the investigation on Friday, according to the Baltimore Sun.

University President Ronald J. Daniels wrote in the email, "In May, news media accounts reported that a complaint had been filed with the U.S. Department of Education regarding Johns Hopkins’ response to incidents of alleged sexual assault. I want to share with you that we have now received official notification of a complaint. The Department’s Office for Civil Rights is pursuing an investigation, and, in a conversation with OCR yesterday, we have pledged our full cooperation."

Activists had filed federal complaints against Johns Hopkins in the spring, claiming that the university had violated both Title IX, which protects students' rights to pursue education free from gender-based harassment including sexual assault, and the Clery Act, which requires universities to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. (Full disclosure: I work with Know Your IX, an organization that helps students organize to stop sexual violence on campuses.) 

The complaints alleged that the university had failed to properly alert the campus community when Baltimore police were investigating the Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity for a gang rape of a Towson University student at the fraternity house in March 2013. Even though the university suspended the fraternity's social activities during the police investigation, university officials did not inform the student body about the investigation, and took no action against the fraternity when they found out that, despite the suspension, PIKE was still hosting parties. In emails obtained by the Huffington Post, Dean of Student Life Susan Boswell wrote to a student that she believed the university had violated the Clery Act by not informing students about the incident.

In Daniels' email sent on Tuesday, he wrote, "the university over the past year has undertaken a comprehensive self-assessment – reviewing policies and procedures on sexual violence and developing new initiatives to support our students and enhance the safety and security of our campuses. We have begun a thorough review of our performance in meeting our obligations under the Clery Act . . . [and] we have marshaled and expanded our university’s resources to enhance the support, services, processes, education and training needed and requested by our community members."

Hopkins joins a long list of colleges and universities across the country that are under investigation for their handling of sexual assault cases. An Education Department spokesman told the Huffington Post that 74 colleges and universities, not including Johns Hopkins, are under investigation for Title IX violations relating to sexual assault cases. The investigation announcement comes just weeks after both the U.S. Senate and the House announced bipartisan bills that would increase university accountability and allow the Department of Education to issue intermediary sanctions against universities that are noncompliant with Title IX.