55 schools face US federal sex assault probe

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FILE – This March 6, 2014 file photo shows Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Education Department on Thursday took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of the 55 colleges and universities currently facing a Title IX investigation over their handling of sexual abuse complaints. The release came two days after a White House task force promised greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education. Going forward, the department said, it will keep an updated list of schools facing such an investigation and make it available upon request. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have said non-compliance under the law is “far too common.” They say a lack of federal resources is partly to blame for that, and they’ve sought more money to ensure timely and proper investigations. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

FILE – This March 6, 2014 file photo shows Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Education Department on Thursday took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of the 55 colleges and universities currently facing a Title IX investigation over their handling of sexual abuse complaints. The release came two days after a White House task force promised greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education. Going forward, the department said, it will keep an updated list of schools facing such an investigation and make it available upon request. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have said non-compliance under the law is “far too common.” They say a lack of federal resources is partly to blame for that, and they’ve sought more money to ensure timely and proper investigations. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

FILE – This April 2, 2014 file photo shows Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Education Department on Thursday took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of the 55 colleges and universities currently facing a Title IX investigation over their handling of sexual abuse complaints. The release came two days after a White House task force promised greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education. Going forward, the department said, it will keep an updated list of schools facing such an investigation and make it available upon request. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have said non-compliance under the law is “far too common.” They say a lack of federal resources is partly to blame for that, and they’ve sought more money to ensure timely and proper investigations. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fifty-five colleges and universities — big and small, public and private — are being investigated over their handling of sexual abuse complaints, the Education Department revealed Thursday.

The department’s release of the list is unprecedented and comes as the Obama administration seeks to shed greater light on the issue of sexual assault in higher education and how it is being handled.

Going forward, the department said, it will keep an updated list of schools facing such investigations and make it available upon request.

The schools range from big public universities including Ohio State University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Arizona State University to private schools including Knox College in Illinois, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Catholic University of America in the District of Columbia. Ivy League schools including Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth are also on the list.

About half of all states had schools under investigation.

Massachusetts led with six schools on the list. They included Amherst College, Boston University, Emerson College, Harvard College, Harvard University Law School and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Pennsylvania had five schools listed. California, Colorado and New York each had four.

The agency previously would confirm such Title IX investigations when asked, but students and others were often unaware of them.

Catherine E. Lhamon, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights, said in a statement that a school’s presence on the list does not mean that it has violated the law but that an investigation of complaints is underway.

Some investigations were prompted by complaints directly to the federal department; others were initiated by the department following compliance reviews triggered by other factors, such as news stories. The department did not release specifics in the cases, and only sparse details in many of them have emerged.

Details in some cases are known, however. For example, one at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor involves allegations of mishandling of a matter involving a student athlete. The investigation began after federal authorities received complaints related to the expulsion of Brendan Gibbons, a former kicker on Michigan’s football team.

A student group examined the school’s student sexual misconduct policy and last month determined the university failed to explain a yearslong delay between the alleged incident and Gibbons’ expulsion in December. Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says the university has been “fully cooperating.”

At Dartmouth, where investigators visited the Hanover, New Hampshire, campus in late January to speak with students, faculty and alumni, university officials there said they were working to make improvements.

“We are hopeful at the end of this there will be a resolution that will strengthen our internal processes and result in a safer community,” Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson said Thursday. “There’s always something we can learn and ways to get better.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said there had been “lots of internal debate” about whether to release the list but that he believes in transparency; he said the more the country is talking about the problem of sexual assault, the better. Duncan said there is “absolutely zero presumption” of guilt in his mind for schools being investigated.

“No one probably loves to have their name on that list,” Duncan said during a White House media briefing. “But we’ll investigate; we’ll go where the facts are. And where they have done everything perfectly, we’ll be very loud and clear that they’ve done everything perfectly.”

Duncan said while being on the list might feel difficult for schools, it

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