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Department of Education launches second review of UNC

The University was slapped with a second federal review Thursday when the U.S. Department of Education’s Clery Act Compliance Division announced it would evaluate whether UNC violated federal law when responding to sexual assault.

This new review of UNC’s sexual assault procedures is the second to be announced this month, triggering decisive scrutiny that will command campus attention for months to come.

What will this newest review be evaluating?

In a review starting April 2, the Department of Education’s Clery Act Compliance Division will assess whether UNC complied with the Clery Act — a law that requires federally funded universities to report crime statistics that happen on and near campus.

The act requires a designated campus authority to collect and submit reports of criminal offenses to the Department of Education. Criminal accusations range from criminal homicides to sexual assaults to robberies.

UNC’s designated campus authority is the Office of University Counsel.

Campuses are also required by the law to publish an Annual Security Report that documents crime statistics, keep a public crime log and issue timely warnings about campus crimes.

What prompted this review?

Three students, one former student and one former administrator filed a complaint with the Clery Act Compliance Division on Jan. 17, accusing UNC of failing to accurately and completely disclose its crime statistics. It also alleged that UNC has not implemented proper sexual assault procedures.

In the complaint, Melinda Manning, a former assistant dean of students, alleged that the University Counsel’s office pressured her to underreport sexual assault cases — before reducing the number by three without her knowledge.

Leslie Strohm, vice chancellor and general counsel, emphatically denied the accusations to the Board of Trustees on Jan. 24.

How does this review differ from the investigation opened earlier this month?

On March 1, a different office in the Department of Education — the Office for Civil Rights — announced it opened an investigation of UNC’s handling of sexual assault procedures. The investigation was prompted by a complaint submitted by the same five who filed a complaint with the Clery Act Compliance Division.

The office will instead investigate allegations that UNC fostered a hostile environment for sexual assault survivors, including accusations that UNC failed to impartially investigate cases and to train officials.

The office’s investigation, which is expected to take about six months, is independent of the Clery Act Compliance Division’s review — which has no set end date.

What are the consequences of these reviews?

Universities found in violation of the Clery Act could face penalties of $35,000 per violation — and these penalties can add up.

In 2008, Eastern Michigan University was fined $350,000 for violating the Clery Act.

The maximum penalty that can be wielded in the Office for Civil Rights investigation is a complete withdrawal of a university’s federal funding. The office has never issued this punishment, and instead focuses on working with universities to fix problems.

How has UNC responded to these investigations?

The University responded to the Office for Civil Rights investigation Thursday with a 36-page document detailing its sexual assault procedures. Included are details about UNC’s previous procedures and improvements made to policies, including the hiring of a deputy Title IX officer and a sexual assault investigator.

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UNC has not responded to the newest review, but is required to submit documents, such as all reported crimes, by April 2.

What information has UNC not provided?

UNC has declined to provide The Daily Tar Heel with detailed documents included in its response to the Office for Civil Rights, including a redacted version of a spreadsheet of all student sexual assault complaints brought to UNC’s attention. The Office for Civil Rights provides UNC the option of naming students by unique identifiers rather than names as to not violate privacy.

UNC has also yet to fill multiple records requests related to sexual assault accusations in both complaints, including emails between Manning and Strohm and instructions given to campus security personnel about procedures for reporting sexual assault statistics.

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