Baltimore Sun

DOJ looking into UMBC

Investigat­ing school’s Title IX compliance, handling of complaints

- By Darcy Costello

The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a civil rights investigat­ion into the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s compliance with federal Title IX rules barring gender discrimina­tion.

University officials confirmed the investigat­ion this week and said the school was notified about it in November 2020. The probe is “still underway,” UMBC’s general counsel said in an emailed statement to The Baltimore Sun, though no timeline for findings has been provided.

A Justice Department spokespers­on said the agency declined to comment.

UMBC notified students of the investigat­ion in an email this April, saying the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division was looking into the school’s “response to complaints of sexual harassment and its Title IX compliance.”

While the scope of the investigat­ion is unclear, UMBC has faced scrutiny over its handling of sexual assaults in recent years.

A 2018 lawsuit against the university and other Baltimore County authoritie­s alleged systemic indifferen­ce to crimes of sexual violence and led to a series of reforms of the school’s Title IX practices.

It also was investigat­ed by the U.S. Department of Education in 2016 following an attorney’s complaint alleging UMBC had mishandled a student’s case.

The university’s April email said the university has cooperated and offered open office hours over three days that month for students to meet with investigat­ors about “their experience­s.”

“We are certainly working with them and cooperatin­g with them to make sure that they have what they need as it relates to the investigat­ion,” said Candace Dodson-Reed, chief of staff to the university president, in an interview this week.

Dodson-Reed also serves as executive director of the school’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, which handles Title IX investigat­ions into sexual misconduct.

The 2018 lawsuit, joined by five current or former female students at UMBC who said they were sexually assaulted, argued that the women were treated with “indifferen­ce and disrespect,” were intimidate­d by police and discourage­d from reporting.

A judge has since thrown out most claims in the suit, including all against UMBC, but the allegation­s prompted outcry on UMBC’s campus in 2018, including a march to the administra­tion building where students confronted the university president, a series of demands and a student-led town hall.

That, in turn, led to three 2019 reports containing more than 100 recommenda­tions from outside consultant­s, a student task force, and a group of faculty and staff members. The office has implemente­d some of the recommenda­tions and is working on others.

Dodson-Reed said UMBC has “grown as a university” since 2018, providing additional resources for an “extra level of care” for students, faculty and staff.

“It’s my goal to try to be the model,” Dodson-Reed said. “So what else do we need to do to be the best that we can in this very difficult work?

“Do I think we’ve made progress? Certainly, but like anything else I would love for us to continue to make progress, continue to check in with the community and make sure that we’re providing a level of care for our students, faculty, staff and alums … that is the best we can possibly do in this space.”

The university’s longtime president, Freeman

Hrabowski III, announced last August that he would step down in 2022 after three decades leading the school. His successor, Valerie Sheares Ashby, started Monday.

Dodson-Reed said Tuesday that the new president is aware of the investigat­ion and has no plans to change the school’s cooperatio­n.

“I don’t want to speak for her,” DodsonReed said, “but I know she cares greatly about these issues.”

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