Why Is UVa Under Title IX Investigation Again?

[Updated (7/28/2016, 4:30 p.m.) with a statement from the university.]

The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights said on Wednesday that the University of Virginia was under investigation for its handling of sexual violence under the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX.

The announcement triggered a sense of déjà vu among close watchers of the office’s weekly list of institutions under investigation because the university is no stranger to federal scrutiny on Title IX. In fact, the office, known as OCR, just last fall concluded a bruising Title IX investigation of the university.

That investigation was notable for the high-profile wrangling that resulted in its resolution. Heavy hitters from the university, the state, and the federal government negotiated for months over the terms under which the investigation would end. The talks, which were at points tortuous, ended in an 11th-hour agreement between the university and the office that, among other things, a “basis” for a sexually hostile environment had existed on the campus (though disagreement continued to fester).

The government’s Title IX investigations are comprehensive, covering more than just the claims made in a complaint that the office may be responding to. So what fresh issues could the Office for Civil Rights be investigating?

The circumstances of the investigations are notoriously opaque. But a spokeswoman for the Education Department, Dorie Nolt, told The Washington Post that the new investigation “involves facts that were not covered as part of OCR’s previous investigation at the university.”

And a spokesman for the university said in a statement to The Chronicle that the new investigation had been sparked by an individual complaint from “a former male student” who claimed that “he was discriminated against in the Title IX investigation process based on his gender and disability.” (The office does not open investigations in response to all complaints, just those it deems worth investigating. The office’s guidelines for opening an investigation are described in its case-processing manual.)

The university is not unique in being the subject of an investigation following the recent resolution of another. Other cases include the Virginia Military Institute, Brandeis University, Ohio State University, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of Connecticut, and the University of San Diego, all of which had new investigations opened less than one year after the resolution or closure of another.

The specific circumstances of the new investigation at the University of Virginia won’t become clear for months, at least. The average length of the office’s investigations is just less than a year and a half, but the last probe there spanned more than four years.

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