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The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating whether Iowa State University 'promptly and equitably” responds to reports of sexual violence after a student said she was sexually assaulted during the 2013-14 academic year and then was discriminated against by the university.
The federal agency on Oct. 15 sent a letter to ISU President Steven Leath informing him of the investigation into the university's policies, procedures, and practices and requesting a long list of information - including details around the assault that prompted the inquiry.
The investigation came to light this week in Board of Regents documents released in advance of its meeting next week in Cedar Falls. According to the letter to Leath, a complaint was filed with the Office of Civil Rights on Sept. 29 accusing ISU of discriminating against a female student, who reported being sexually assaulted by a male student during the 2013-14 school year.
'The complaint raises whether the university fails to promptly and equitably respond to complaints, reports and/or incidents of sexual violence of which it had notice … thereby creating for students a sexually hostile environment,” according to the letter.
The Office of Civil Rights is responsible for enforcing Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments, and it has 95 pending Title IX sexual violence investigations involving postsecondary institutions, including two in Iowa - this investigation at ISU and another at Drake University, a private Des Moines-based institution.
Drake officials on Thursday did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the investigation.
John McCarroll, executive director for ISU's Office of University Relations, said Iowa State police investigated the 2014 sexual assault report that prompted the federal investigation and arrested a suspect earlier this month.
He didn't provide the suspect's name or the charges he faces but said he has an ISU disciplinary hearing scheduled in February. McCarroll said ISU hasn't seen a copy of the federal complaint, and the Office of Civil Rights has declined to provide it.
Last summer, an internal audit at ISU found shortcomings in how it tracks and reports crime, including sexual assault. The June audit, among other things, criticized ISU for failing to adequately distribute 'timely warning” messages about crime on campus, violating requirements of The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.
The audit also found ISU wasn't tracking crime statistics for its overseas campus in Rome, Italy, or on eight of its nine teaching farms. And auditors reported ISU had no written procedures for compiling criminal statistics, reviewing geography covered by the Clery Act, submitting reportable statistics online to the Department of Education, preparing annual security reports, and updating the crime log.
ISU officials at the time committed to reviewing, updating, and documenting campus safety and security policies, and McCarroll on Thursday told The Gazette the administration over the past seven years has conducted 'extensive reviews of our policies and procedures related to sexual misconduct.”
'We believe our policies and procedures are solid,” he said. 'We have a comprehensive program here with dedicated people for handling allegations and cases.”
ISU received 12 reports of sexual assault in 2014 and 13 in 2013 - the most in a decade. Six crime alerts were issued to the campus in 2013, including four involving sexual assault. Five alerts were issued in 2014, including four related to sexual violence, according to McCarroll.