The University of Northern Iowa is undertaking a comprehensive Title IX compliance review, officials announced this week. UNI reportedly has hired an outside firm to examine “‘all policies and procedures that funnel into Title IX’ including student misconduct, harassment and discrimination, communication, outreach and training.” This kind of review is the first of its kind at UNI, which has in the past conducted a narrow review of its sexual misconduct policy but never one as broad as has been described. It also sets UNI apart from its peers, as this this article suggests, by undertaking a review that is broader than sexual abuse reporting policies as other public Iowa universities have done in the wake of the Penn State scandal.
The review will undoubtedly examine the university’s response to a 2004 incident in which a female student was assaulted in her dorm room by two UNI football players. In 2007, the student sued the university, arguing that the university’s hostile and indifferent response constituted a violation of Title IX. She argued that university officials treated her with “great animosity,” denied her academic accommodations and a request to change dormitories, and failed to respond to reports that she was receiving harassing calls from players. After she was forced to quit school, the university sent her tuition bill to a collection agency and the dean of students told her she was disappointed “she didn’t tough it out.” All of this, if proven true, sounds like a classic case for institutional liability under Title IX.
This lawsuit remains pending, and there is no apparent, direct connection between the this litigation and the university’s decision to undertake a comprehensive review at this time–i.e., there’s no court order or settlement agreement telling them to do so. And obviously, changing problem policies going forward will not absolve the university for violations it may have committed in the past. All of this underscores the university’s claims that it is taking this step in a voluntary, proactive manner. In that regard, more universities should follow UNI’s lead, and review their sexual harassment and related policies not as a reaction to sexual assault, misconduct, abuse, and cover-ups, but in an effort to keep those things from happening in the future.