WASHINGTON — Investigators with the U.S. Department of Education have launched a probe at The George Washington University, looking at how the school has been dealing with reports of sexual harassment and violence.
The Title IX investigation began Tuesday by the education department’s Office for Civil Rights and will examine whether the university has violated federal law.
Under Title IX, sex-based discrimination violates federal law when it happens at education activities that receive federal money.
“It’s a very serious thing,” said John Banzhaf, a law professor at the university. “Being under investigation for a possible Title IX violation generally means an allegation that the university did not adequately investigate and take action regarding complaints of sexual assault.”
News of the investigation was first reported by the student newspaper The GW Hatchet.
It is one of more than 200 such investigations ongoing at colleges and universities around the nation, the paper reported.
“At the very least, it hurts the university’s reputation,” Banzhaf said. “It’s never happened before, but potentially a university could lose all of its funding if it’s found guilty.”
Banzhaf has been active in lobbying for changes in how universities handle sexual harassment allegations. He has suggested that universities should not conduct their own investigations and instead use a coalition of dozens of universities in their region that would collectively hire investigators.
“If they had done that, almost certainly there would not have been [a federal] investigation,” he said.
The George Washington University was previously under a Title IX investigation back in 2011. The Hatchet reports it led to new procedures that separated sexual assault cases from other forms of violence.
Last spring, The Hatchet reported, the university’s handling of claims that a student manager at the campus recreation center was responsible for sexual violence set off protests. Officials announced he would not lose his campus employment or enrollment status.
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