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Education Department Clarifies Title IX 'Compliance Reviews Are Not Random'

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After recently identifying 55 colleges and universities as under investigation for possible Title IX violations, the U.S. Department of Education on Friday refuted suggestions that those schools had been randomly selected for a routine inspection.

The investigations will determine how institutions handle sexual misconduct on campus, and whether they may have violated the gender equity law Title IX. While most of the investigations were initiated by complaints from students or alumni, nine of the 55 schools identified by the department Thursday are the subject of compliance reviews, which are proactive investigations by the department's Office for Civil Rights.

Seven of those facing such reviews either were previously known or identified themselves in statements on Thursday. They include: Dartmouth College, Emory University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Colorado at Denver, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Oklahoma State University. OCR has not identified the other two.

Indiana University-Bloomington also identified itself on Thursday as among the nine, but suggested in a statement that "individual institutions have been chosen randomly based on size, geographic location, type of campus community (commuter vs. residential) and other factors."

Education Department spokeswoman Dorie Nolt explained that no institution was chosen at random.

"Compliance reviews are not random audits of schools -- they are selected based on various sources of information, including statistical data, news reports and information from parents, advocacy groups and community organizations," Nolt said. "Compliance reviews are initiated in order to remedy possible violations of students' rights."

"Our campus officials were left with the impression that the DOE was doing these reviews across a representative number of universities based on a number of factors not necessarily tied to the handling of sexual assault cases (hence the element of randomness)," IU-Bloomington spokesman Mark Land told HuffPost Friday. "We have no issue with the review at all."

OCR Title IX investigations typically lead to resolution agreements that stipulate policy changes a university must implement to comply with the law. In rare cases, OCR will declare a university in violation, and could move to cut off a school's federal funding, such as student loans and Pell grants -- though the agency has never done that.

While saying it applauds the work of OCR, the UMass-Amherst said that the compliance review is something that any college might face.

"We factually state that 'no conclusions have been reached.' We do not suggest anything else, and we recognize that Education Department selects schools based on a variety of factors," UMass-Amherst spokesman Ed Blaguszewski told The Huffington Post. "As noted in the statement, we fully support the Task Force's work, and we believe that much more must be done to safeguard our students at UMass Amherst."

The University of Colorado at Denver said it only learned it was under investigation when the Education Department sent out its full list on Thursday. It too wanted to highlight that the investigation was not due to a complaint.

"After receiving the release, the university contacted OCR and learned that the investigation notification was mailed on April 29, 2014," the university said in a statement. "This is not an investigation of a specific incident but is instead a general review of our Title IX compliance."

Nolt also pointed out "the opening of an investigation by OCR, whether based on a complaint or a compliance review, does not indicate that the school is violating or has violated any federal law or that OCR has reached a conclusion as to whether a violation of any federal law exists."

Map Key: Dark red markers indicate a federal investigation is currently underway, light red means a complaint was filed but no investigation has been opened yet. Blue indicates the school is facing a controversy over sexual violence cases not specifically related to a federal complaint or investigation.

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