Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas-Pan American are on a list of higher education institutions under investigation for possible violations of federal law in their handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.
For the first time, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released the comprehensive list of schools under investigation for issues relating to Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender at institutions that receive federal financial assistance.
Thursday's release marks a departure from their previous practice of confirming Title IX investigations at individual institutions.
"We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights," Catherine E. Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement. She also noted that a university's appearance on the list does not indicate that it has violated or is violating the law.
Kent Best, a spokesman for SMU, said the matters under federal review have been investigated by SMU and predate a university task force review of sexual misconduct policies and procedures.
"The University has been aggressive in putting into practice wide-ranging new procedures to inform and protect our students, to provide prompt and effective resolution of complaints, and to hold violators accountable while treating all students fairly," Best said in the statement. He added that SMU continually reviews and updates its programs in comparison with national benchmarks.
According to a statement from UTPA, the university received a federal complaint notice in late April alleging that the university discriminated against a student on the basis of gender by failing to promptly and equitably respond to her complaint that she was sexually assaulted.
"The University of Texas-Pan American takes its responsibilities under Title IX seriously and condemns sexual violence, harassment and misconduct by or against any member of our University community," the statement said. "We endeavor to treat all claimants with respect and dignity, and achieve a result that is fair and just to all parties involved in a timely manner."
The university indicated that no further comment on the pending investigation was forthcoming.
Failing to comply with Title IX has serious consequences. As noted in the education department's press release, violating the law and refusing to address issues raised by the Office of Civil Rights can result in loss of federal funding or referral to the U.S. Department of Justice for further action.
Disclosure: Southern Methodist University was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2013. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.