Harvard Law faces Title IX inquiry

School official denies charge

By Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / April 25, 2011

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The civil rights division of the US Department of Education is investigating Harvard Law School after a Boston lawyer filed a complaint with the agency alleging that school policies regarding response to sexual assault allegations violate Title IX rules against discrimination on campuses.

Wendy J. Murphy, a faculty member at the New England School of Law said yesterday in a telephone interview that she filed the complaint in September, after being hired by Harvard Law in the spring to work on a Title IX issue and finding that three policies ran afoul of federal regulations. She would not elaborate on why she was hired.

She said the most troubling violation is the school’s policy of waiting to address complaints on campus until police and prosecutors have finished investigating, a practice she called “running out the clock.’’ Murphy said criminal investigations can drag on until after victims graduate, leaving them vulnerable to retaliation from their attackers and others during the rest of their time in school.

A Harvard Law official with knowledge of the hearing process denied yesterday that administrators seek delays as a matter of policy.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the pending review, said campus hearings can be held before criminal investigations end, though he could not say how often that happens.

The official said the law school pays for an attorney chosen by each alleged victim to represent her or him during the disciplinary process.

But Murphy said too much evidence is required during a campus hearing to find a law student guilty of sexual assault, and that school officials do not provide alleged victims with a “clear and concise’’ timeframe for when cases will be resolved. She declined to say if she knew of any students who have been harmed by these policies.

In a statement yesterday, the school defended its record of handling allegations but did not comment on the specifics of Murphy’s complaint, citing the pending review.

“We have a responsibility to protect and maintain the safety and well-being of our students, and to offer complete support and assistance to any student who makes us aware of harm,’’ the statement said.

“That responsibility includes effective processes for ensuring a safe community and for investigating any allegation of assault expeditiously and fairly, followed by appropriate disciplinary action.’’

The Department of Education’s civil rights division did not immediately return messages seeking comment yesterday.

Murphy said the division could issue its findings by June.

She said that if a school refuses to comply with Title IX, the government could pull its federal funding, though she was unaware of any case being resolved in that manner.

Travis Andersen can be reached at