The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that it is requiring major changes at Pennsylvania State University, saying the school failed to protect students in properly addressing sex-abuse complaints after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The department said its Office for Civil Rights, after an investigation that began in 2014, found that Penn State’s policies and procedures for resolving allegations of sexual harassment violated Title IX, the law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and requires universities to investigate sexual assaults.
It also announced an agreement reached with the university for certain changes to ensure compliance.
“Given all of the attention that Penn State has faced in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, it is disappointing that so many serious problems have remained at that university system,” Kenneth Marcus, head of the Office for Civil Rights, said in a statement. “As OCR has demonstrated, schools will be held responsible for how they respond to complaints of sexual harassment. We are pleased that Penn State has now agreed, in a spirit of cooperation, to fix the problems that we have identified."
Penn State, in a statement, said the university looks forward to implementing the agreement. Many of the findings “relate to a number of past practices, which during the six-year time frame of the investigation have been addressed by Penn State leadership. Any remaining findings will be the immediate focus of the university’s efforts to more effectively meet OCR guidance and the needs of our community.”
The Office for Civil Rights reviewed university policies and procedures in effect during the 2011-12 academic year through the current academic year and focused on eight campuses, including the main campus in State College.
It found that Penn State failed to appropriately respond to sexual harassment complaints first reported to the athletic department in certain academic years; maintain records necessary for the office to determine whether the university complied with Title IX; ensure fair and appropriate investigation of complaints during the current academic year; and provide notice to parties of the outcome of investigations.
The office also found that from 2017 to 2019, Penn State imposed interim suspensions before providing the accused an opportunity to respond to allegations, and structured hearings in a way that may have precluded relevant information.
The agreement requires Penn State to revise its Title IX policies to ensure an appropriate response to sexual harassment complaints; modify its record-keeping practices to ensure that they accurately document all sexual harassment complaints and the university’s responses; facilitate additional Title IX training for university staff, including the athletics department; and notify participants in its youth programs and their parents or guardians that Title IX prohibits sexual harassment.
Penn State said it produced more than 80,000 pages of documentation for the investigation. It said that it had worked to comply with the changing Title IX regulatory landscape, created a standalone Title IX office with a designated director and new investigative specialists and support staff, and implemented mandatory annual training for all employees on the topic of reporting misconduct.