The Obama administration says it has reached an agreement with Virginia Military Institute to resolve sex-discrimination issues.
The Education Department said Friday it found that female cadets were exposed to a sexually hostile environment at the Lexington, Virginia, state-supported military college. It said the school failed to provide for the "prompt and equitable" resolution of complaints alleging sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The department also said it negotiated revisions to VMI's marriage and parenthood policy that became effective last month. It said VMI now allows cadets who become pregnant, or have a child, to continue their education. It also says the college agreed to implement a new policy on handling sexual assault cases.
Title IX of the Civil Rights Act prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds.
VMI, with the approval of the Board of Visitors, signed a Resolution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on April 30, 2014. Despite reservation, we signed an agreement that requires reports and certain actions by VMI, many of which the Institute already has initiated. We signed this agreement not because we feel the findings are representative of the VMI environment; but rather, it is in the best interest of the Institute to cooperate with OCR and put an end to this six-year investigation.
VMI continuously assesses and updates all of its programs, policies, and training, especially in the area of Title IX. VMI submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) over a month ago revised policies and procedures for investigating and resolving complaints in accordance with OCR's recommendations. VMI readily agreed with OCR to continue existing training of faculty, staff, and cadets and other prevention and awareness efforts. In light of all of the strides made by VMI in the six years the OCR investigation has been pending, VMI is profoundly disappointed with OCR’s findings. During this time VMI honestly strove to address all incidents at the Institute with transparency, due process, fairness and care. The focus we have placed – and continue to place – on the values of civility, discipline, and respect makes our campus more safe, not less so.
VMI is committed to providing a safe environment in which cadets can learn, in which faculty members can teach, and in which staff members can support the Institute’s mission. As with any college community, VMI is made up of individuals. When an individual associated with VMI fails to respect the rights of another individual, the Institute takes immediate and decisive action to care for those adversely affected and to investigate the allegation, pursuing administrative action when needed and referring the matter to the proper law enforcement agency when warranted.
We are committed to moving forward to do all in our power to ensure the safety and well-being of our cadets and employees.
Click here to see the statement from VMI: http://vmi.edu/Content.aspx?id=10737429339
U.S. Department of Education statement
The U.S. Department of Education announced today that its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) entered into a resolution agreement with Virginia Military Institute (VMI) after finding that VMI engaged in sex discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
OCR found that female cadets were exposed to a sexually hostile environment and that VMI failed to provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of cadet complaints alleging sexual harassment and sexual assault, as required by Title IX.
The office determined that VMI's policies and procedures for addressing complaints of sexual assault from cadets and employees fail to comply with Title IX. OCR also found VMI in violation of the Title IX regulation that prohibits excluding a student on the basis of pregnancy because VMI's marriage and parenthood policy required a pregnant cadet to resign or be separated from the school. Parenting cadets were also required to resign or face separation from VMI. OCR negotiated revisions to VMI's marriage and parenthood policy, which became effective in April 2014.
"All members of the VMI community must be able to live, study and work in a safe environment. Protecting students and employees from sexual assault is a basic obligation of every educational institution, including the ones that provide military education, and I am thrilled that VMI has agreed to take necessary corrective steps going forward" said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. "I am also delighted that VMI now allows cadets who become pregnant and all cadets who become parents to continue their education at VMI."
The agreement and negotiated policy changes, when implemented, are designed to ensure that cadets and employees can fully participate in VMI's programs in a safe educational environment.
In addition, the revised marriage and parenthood policy allows pregnant cadets to remain enrolled in VMI as long as they are able to perform their duties and provides them with the same opportunity to take medical leave as cadets with other temporary medical conditions. The new policy also permits parenting cadets to remain at VMI as long as the cadets have made arrangements for the child's custody, care and support.
VMI committed to initiate or continue the following additional actions:
Develop and implement for the 2014-2015 academic year a unified policy on sexual harassment and sexual assault, for OCR's review and approval, to ensure the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints from both cadets and employees.
Submit to OCR for review of compliance with Title IX the documentation of all sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints, including investigative files and findings, for the 2014-2015 academic year.
Conduct annual assessments of the climate for cadets, faculty and staff concerning sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Require the Cadet Equity Association to identify strategies for ensuring that cadets understand their rights under Title IX and know how to report possible violations; and identify strategies for the prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Annually assess the effectiveness of efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Provide annual training for staff and cadets who are directly involved in reporting, processing, investigating and resolving these complaints.
Provide annual training to cadets, faculty and staff on identifying and reporting sexual harassment and sexual assault, including mandatory group sessions for cadets on sexual assault, bystander intervention and the connection between alcohol use and sexual assault.
Revise its tenure and promotion policies to clarify the role of the dean of the faculty and to specify the sources of information upon which the dean may base his recommendation to the superintendent concerning candidates for tenure and promotion.
OCR will closely monitor implementation of the agreement and the negotiated policy changes to ensure that the commitments are implemented in a timely and effective manner and that they result in an equal and nondiscriminatory environment for female cadets and employees.
A copy of the resolution letter can be found here. A copy of the agreement can be found here.
The office's mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about the office is available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.