Five area colleges are among 55 nationwide being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for possible mishandling of sexual assault and harassment cases.
Temple University, Pennsylvania State University, Princeton University, Swarthmore College, and Franklin and Marshall College are on the first-of-its-kind list, released Thursday.
The investigations are looking for possible violations of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Officials declined to release details of the investigations.
"We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights," Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a statement.
The list was released just two days after the White House unveiled a report on improving the handling of sexual assaults on campus.
President Obama put the spotlight on campus assault in January, calling for colleges to be forthcoming and commissioning the task force that produced the report.
Among the recommendations were calls for ferreting out the extent of the problem, and helping schools both prevent and respond appropriately to complaints. One in five women are sexually assaulted while in college, most often by someone they know. Attacks are usually not reported, according to the report.
In recent years, a spate of complaints have been lodged at campuses around the country as more women speak out about sexual assault.
Some of the nation's elite colleges, including Harvard, Dartmouth, and Chicago, appear on the list, as well as the University of California, Berkeley, the Universities of Michigan and Virginia, and other prominent public schools.
California's Occidental College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where complaints already had gone public, also are on the list. West Chester University, where several sexual assaults have been reported in the last month, was not.
At Swarthmore last year, a group of students went public with their complaints against the school over its handling of sexual harassment and assault complaints.
Mia Ferguson, a junior at Swarthmore and one of the group, on Thursday applauded the Department of Education's efforts.
"It's refreshing and exciting to see sexual assaults on the national agenda and also part of a national conversation," Ferguson said. "The White House has really taken the lead now on listening to students and faculty members and others who play a big role in university life and the well-being of students."
Ferguson's group subsequently filed two formal complaints with the Department of Education alleging that the college violated both Title IX and the Clery Act, which requires colleges to report crimes on campus.
Acting on recommendations from its consultant, Swarthmore has brought on additional staff, provided training for employees, and adopted an interim policy on the handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints.
"Swarthmore has worked tirelessly to institute a comprehensive series of major, intensive, and expansive changes meant to turn this college into a model of proactivity in preventing, addressing, responding to, and adjudicating sexual assault and harassment," Nancy Nicely, secretary of the college, said in a statement Thursday. "We are determined to let no instance of any such behavior exist unaddressed on this campus. . . . We are cooperating completely with the Department of Education and it is up to them to rule on the allegations' veracity."
Other local universities also said they were cooperating with the department.
Princeton reported that the investigation on its campus began in 2010, but declined to provide other details.
At Franklin and Marshall, a complaint filed by an individual in March triggered a probe, said spokeswoman Cass Cliatt.
"There is no indication of any finding of any fault," Cliatt said.
Temple declined to say when a review started, citing confidentiality.
"Temple has fully cooperated with the Office of Civil Rights and looks forward to a resolution of the matter," said spokesman Ray Betzner.
The Department of Education began a review this year at Penn State, which is still recovering from the 2011 indictment, and subsequent conviction, of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky for sexually assaulting young boys, some of them on campus.
Penn State has made widespread changes on campus, including new policies and procedures, the restructuring of the governance of its board of trustees, the hiring of faculty who are experts in sexual abuse and the expansion of its human resources office.
Colleges Probed Over Title IX Violations
The U.S. Department of Education is investigating 55 colleges for possible violations of federal law in their handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.
The schools, listed alphabetically by state:
Arizona State University
Butte-Glen Community College District (Calif.)
Occidental College (Calif.)
University of California, Berkeley
University of Southern California
Regis University (Colo.)
University of Colorado at Boulder
University of Colorado at Denver
University of Denver
University of Connecticut
Catholic University of America (D.C.)
Florida State University
Emory University (Ga.)
University of Hawaii at Manoa
University of Idaho
Knox College (Ill.)
University of Chicago
Indiana University, Bloomington
Vincennes University (Ind.)
Amherst College (Mass.)
Boston University (Mass.)
Emerson College (Mass.)
Harvard College (Mass.)
Harvard University Law School (Mass.)
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Frostburg State University (Md.)
Michigan State University
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Guilford College (N.C.)
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Minot State University (N.D.)
Dartmouth College (N.H.)
Princeton University (N.J.)
CUNY Hunter College (N.Y.)
Hobart and William Smith Colleges (N.Y.)
Sarah Lawrence College (N.Y.)
SUNY at Binghamton (N.Y.)
Denison University (Ohio)
Ohio State University
Wittenberg University (Ohio)
Oklahoma State University
Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.)
Franklin and Marshall College (Pa.)
Pennsylvania State University
Vanderbilt University (Tenn.)
Southern Methodist University (Texas)
University of Texas, Pan American
College of William and Mary (Va.)
University of Virginia
Washington State University
University of Wisconsin, Whitewater
Bethany College (W.Va.)
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education