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University Of Arkansas Expels Ex-Olympic Athlete For Sexual Assault

02/12/2015 07:20 pm ET | Updated Feb 12, 2015
FRANCK FIFE via Getty Images

The University of Arkansas has expelled an Olympic athlete who was found responsible for sexually assaulting and harassing a female student.

Raymond Higgs, 24, a senior who competed in the long jump in the 2012 Summer Olympics, was notified this week that he is immediately kicked out of the Fayetteville, Arkansas, school. A university hearing in December found him responsible for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the Oct. 20 assault and sentenced him to be expelled, according to documents obtained by The Huffington Post.

The university told the victim on Feb. 4 that Higgs' punishment would take effect following his graduation in May. After The Huffington Post questioned the delay, the school told the woman on Tuesday that Higgs' expulsion was immediate.

"In reviewing your inquiry, University officials became aware that the previously transmitted letter had been sent in error and did not accurately reflect the decision on the student’s appeal by the Chancellor and the Vice Provost for Student Affairs," Laura Jacobs, associate vice chancellor for communications at Arkansas, said in a statement to The Huffington Post.

In his appeal, Higgs didn't contest the decision finding him responsible for the assault. Instead, he argued the "sanction imposed is too severe for the violation." He said in his appeal that he wanted to obtain his diploma and pursue a "career as a track professional here in the United States" and "get a reasonable job."

"Again I apologize for my actions, but I hope you understand that I spent these five years here at the University of Arkansas working hard to complete my academics and competing as a Razorback in all efforts of exceling [sic] and to receive my diploma," Higgs wrote in his appeal.

The university upheld the sanction on Jan. 30. A university attorney wrote in a letter to the victim last week that Higgs would be expelled one day after commencement: May 10, 2015.

Higgs' explusion actually was effective on Dec. 11, 2014, Jacobs said. The correct date was communicated to Higgs and the woman on Tuesday, Jacobs said. She confirmed Higgs would not receive his diploma from the university.

"I'm glad that he got expelled, but I don't think they did it for the right reasons -- I think they did it to save their butts," said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous due to the personal nature of the assault. She added: "I already went through so much emotional stress in this whole process."

Higgs did not respond to requests for comment.

"We have a rigorous process of investigation and adjudication of cases involving sexual misconduct," Jacobs said. "In short, we take the responsibilities of Title IX seriously not only because it’s the law, but because it’s the right thing to do."

The female student reported the assault to campus police two days after it occurred in October. She said she was ready to press criminal charges against Higgs. Prosecutors told HuffPost they declined to file criminal charges because of concerns about whether they could prove the allegations in court.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has launched investigations into two universities' handling of sexual assault cases that included similar outcomes -- James Madison University and the University of California-Santa Barbara.

Laura Dunn, founder of the advocacy group SurvJustice who advised the female student, complimented the university for improving policies for sexual assault, but said she has doubts about how this case was handled. The woman and Dunn said they were furious when the school said Higgs wouldn't be expelled until after he graduates.

"It's shameful that the school would leave the victim and the accused wondering since December about the results of the hearing," Dunn said. "In particular, the victim and her family struggled through this process. While the end result was just, the process was inexcusably protracted and jumbled."

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