DOE iniates investigation into Georgetown policy for judicial hearings

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The pressure on GeorgetownUniversity’s controversial handling of sexual assault cases has intensified withrecent attention from the Department of Education. In a letter sentApril 18 to Georgetown President John DeGioia, the department asked him for alegal justification for the university’s confidentiality policy used in campusjudicial hearings. The policy requires victims of crimes of violence andnonforcible sex offenses to sign an agreement prohibiting them from discussingthe case with others, or university officials will not tell them what sanctions,if any, were taken against their assailant. Under the policy, if victimsdisclose those sanctions, they could be disciplined as well.The DOE hasasserted that under the federal campus crime reporting law, the Clery Act, “whenan institution determines that an accused student is an alleged perpetrator andhas violated the institution rules, then there are no restrictions on disclosureor redisclosure of the final results of a disciplinary proceeding.”Federal law also allows schools to release the final results ofdisciplinary proceedings in cases involving crimes of violence or nonforciblesex offenses without fear of violating the federal Family Educational Recordsand Privacy. Under FERPA, a school can lose its federal funding if it has apolicy or practice of permitting the release of students’ education recordswithout the written consent of the students involved. The letter was inresponse to a joint complaint filed last month by the national campus safetyorganization, Security On Campus, and Georgetown sophomore Kate Dieringer, whowas raped her freshman year. After the judicial hearing, judicialofficers required her to sign the university’s confidentiality agreement beforeshe was told what actions they took against her rapist. In the complaint,Dieringer claimed that the university violated her rights under the “CampusSexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights,” which is part of the Clery Act. Thebill expressly states that “both the accuser and the accused shall be informedof the outcome of any campus disciplinary proceeding brought alleging a sexualassault.” Schools that violate the bill of rights can face up to $25,000 in fines andcan lose its eligibility to participate in federal student aidsprograms.She also filed a civil rights complaint against the universitylast December, claiming that the university violated the Title IX gender equitylaw in handling her case.The DOE originally told Georgetown to respondto its letter within 15 days, but at university officials’ request it has giventhe school until May 23. DOE has instructed Georgetown to include in itsresponse specifically why its nondisclosure agreement policy does not violatethe Clery Act. The university must also respond to the allegations raised byDieringer that she was barred even from sharing judicial outcomes and sanctionswith certain close family members and non-university legal or mental healthcounselors. And the university must provide all relevant policies and accountsof other rape cases that went before the judicial board between 1999 and2003.University spokesperson Gloria Lacap said as a policy, Georgetowndoes not comment on individual legal actions that may be pending against theuniversity. But she said Georgetown takes very seriously both the safety andwell-being of all of its students and its responsibility to protect the privacyof student records. “We are committed to maintaining the confidentialityof our student disciplinary system in full compliance with all applicableUniversity policies and federal requirements,” she said.Once Georgetownprovides legal reasoning for its policy, the department will issue a finalruling on the complaints. If the policy is found to be illegal, Georgetown willbe expected to bring it into compliance with the Clery Act.Pressure fromwithin Georgetown’s student population has also increased, as the GeorgetownUniversity Student Association Assembly unanimously passed a resolution callingfor reform of the same policy. The resolution calls for the elimination of themandatory confidentiality agreement, an increase in sensitivity training forfaculty and staff and the creation of a university policy for full disclosurefor students found responsible through the campus judicial system.

Read DOE letter and Dieringer’s complaint on Security On Campus’ Web site.