Arcadia University (via Arcadia University X/Twitter)
Arcadia University violated federal Title IX rules when it failed to investigate alleged sexual harassment by a professor “despite the university repeatedly receiving reports over several years from students and faculty that the professor harassed students,” the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) said.
The education department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) said in a news release that several students and faculty at Arcadia, a small liberal arts college in Montgomery County, reported a male professor sexually harassed female students between 2018 and 2021, behavior that was reported to the university’s former human resources chief and a dean. The agency said it has reached an agreement with the university to resolve its investigation into the allegations, and outlined several steps the school has to take going forward.
Several students also reported the behavior in the professor’s course evaluations beginning in 2019, according to the OCR. One student wrote the professor “made many sexual inappropriate comments on a regular basis. Everyone felt uncomfortable” and another wrote there were “a lot of strange comments of [a] sexual nature,” according to the OCR.
The agreement and letter from federal investigators to Arcadia University President Ajai Nair do not name the students or the professor involved in the complaints and contain multiple redactions to remove identifying information. The professor has since resigned, according to the OCR.
“Arcadia University first ignored repeated notice that a professor serially harassed university students and then compounded the discriminatory harm – in violation of Title IX – when it ended its investigation based on the professor’s resignation, without determining whether university students needed action to end and redress a hostile environment resulting from multiyear sexual harassment,” DOE assistant secretary for civil rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a statement Tuesday.
Title IX refers to the civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, including sexual harassment in schools and universities that receive federal funding. Under the education department’s definition, sexual harassment can include verbal, nonverbal or physical contact of a sexual nature, as well as sexual assault or violence.
Such harassment can create a hostile educational environment, according to the DOE, “when the harassment is sufficiently serious to deny or limit the individual’s ability to participate” in classes and other school-related activity.
Arcadia’s former chief of human resources, who is also not named in the news release, “mistakenly believed that she could not pursue an investigation because the professor was tenured,” and that his alleged conduct didn’t rise to a Title IX claim since there were no allegations of inappropriate touching, according to the OCR.
The same former human resources chief “believed that the professor retaliated against the students who first reported his conduct by accusing the students of cheating but that the university did not address these concerns,” the OCR’s report states.
The OCR letter details a May 2021 interview with a former student who said he had reported his concerns about the professor to a department chairperson, but that this chairperson told the former student “that the Professor was a good guy and did not take the concerns seriously,” The chairperson later denied receiving any complaints, according to the OCR report.
Under the agreement with the DOE, Arcadia is now required to take several steps, which include assigning a third party to complete its investigation of a formal complaint against the former professor, and “offer individual remedies to the individuals who filed the formal complaint” if it substantiates the allegations. It also must conduct a comprehensive investigation into the former professor’s actions for four years, to determine if his behavior created a hostile environment on the basis of sex.
The university must also review all Title IX complaints of student and staff involved sexual harassment for three years, to determine if they were conducted in compliance with Title IX, revise its Title IX policies and procedures and post its Title IX training on its website, and conduct a “climate survey” with students and propose corrective actions, to be submitted to OCR for approval.
Arcadia University did not reply to a request for comment Tuesday.
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