The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights will investigate Johns Hopkins University over concerns as to how the institution handles sexual violence on campus, the school confirmed on Tuesday.
The investigation comes following a complaint filed against JHU earlier this year under the gender equity law Title IX, first reported by The Huffington Post. The complaint alleges that the Baltimore university failed to keep students safe, and specifically that it knew police were investigating a reported gang rape at a fraternity that continued to throw parties, but did not inform the campus community.
JHU spokesman Dennis O'Shea confirmed to HuffPost the university had received notice of the investigation in a letter dated Friday, Aug. 8. JHU President Ronald J. Daniels disclosed the investigation in a campus-wide message Tuesday.
"Nothing remains more important to Johns Hopkins than the welfare of our students, and although the OCR notification does not contain any specific details about the underlying allegations, we will continue to take strong action to improve and to lead in this evolving area of the law and practice," Daniels said.
The opening of an investigation does not imply the department believes the university has, in fact, violated the law.
According to the Title IX complaint, a student identified as Jane Doe accused a university dean of dissuading her from formally reporting her rape by telling her that no student had ever been expelled over sexual assault.
JHU is officially being investigated on whether it "discriminates on the basis of sex by failing to promptly and equitably respond to complaints of sexual assault and violence," an Education Department official said on background.
News of the complaint this spring sparked student protests on campus and a review of the university's policies in such cases. However, sexual violence on campus has been a long-standing source of discontent among students, even as the White House has praised the school for being among those that would, according to some headlines, "lead the way" in addressing the issue.
Daniels noted in his email to the university that an ongoing Sexual Violence Advisory Committee of students, faculty and administrators is working on ways the university can improve its response, and the university this summer launched a new website on sexual assault.
The Education Department has yet to open an investigation in response to a separate but related Clery complaint, also filed this year in February. Violations of the Clery Act can lead to a maximum $35,000 fine per violation. Title IX violations can result in the loss of all of a university's federal funds, although the department has never taken that step. Typically, Title IX investigations wind down with a resolution agreement between OCR and the school that stipulate changes the university must make to ensure full compliance.
An Education Department spokesman told HuffPost on Tuesday that 74 institutions, not including Johns Hopkins, are currently undergoing Title IX investigations specifically related to sexual violence.