UA to undergo sexual violence complaint review

By The Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 18, 2014 at 11:51 a.m.



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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Federal officials plan to visit four University of Alaska campuses next month to review how they are handling sexual violence complaints.

The U.S. Department of Education released a list of 79 colleges and universities around the country that are being investigated due to complaints made to its Office of Civil Rights or as part of compliance reviews.

The list includes schools that have gotten national attention for their handling of sexual assault complaints.

Michael O'Brien, an attorney for the University of Alaska, said it was unfair to lump the two categories together.

"We're not being investigated because we did anything wrong," he told KTOO (http://bit.ly/1s8FCxy ). "They're looking into how we handled Title IX to see that we're doing everything right. There isn't some active violation."

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities that receive federal funding. Rules governing how schools deal with sexual violence complaints fall under that law.

A spokesman with the department's Office of Civil Rights declined to comment, saying the office doesn't give interviews or disclose information about the schools under investigation.

All 16 University of Alaska campuses have Title IX investigators. About 35,000 full-time and part-time students are enrolled in the University of Alaska system.

O'Brien said the office wouldn't give him a specific reason for why the university system was being investigated. But he thinks it's related to the state's high rate of sexual assaults.

The Department of Education, in a letter to the university system, said schools are chosen for compliance review "based on various sources of information, including statistical data and information from parents, advocacy groups, the media, and community organizations."

Since 2011, the university system has had 257 complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault, O'Brien said. Information requested by the Office of Civil Rights included details of each sexual assault complaint since 2011.

O'Brien said complaints are taken seriously and federal law is followed in addressing them. He said the university welcomes the scrutiny.

"There isn't a problem that I see that's unaddressed or something that's been covered up. We're very proactive about dealing with these cases and recognize that we have to do everything we possibly can to prevent this sort of situation on our campuses," he said.

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Information from: KTOO-FM, http://www.ktoo.org

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