By Elvina Nawaguna
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Harvard University has agreed to make changes to its sexual assault policies and review some cases after an investigation found its law school had handled victim complaints poorly, the U.S. Department of Education said on Tuesday.
The agreement with the Ivy League school is part of the Obama administration's push to curb sexual violence in U.S. colleges and coax schools to get tougher in handling cases.
The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights found that Harvard Law School had failed to appropriately respond to two student complaints of sexual assault.
"In one instance, the Law School took over a year to make its final determination and the complainant was not allowed to participate in this extended appeal process, which ultimately resulted in the reversal of the initial decision to dismiss the accused student and dismissal of the complainant's complaint," the department said in its announcement.
The agency found that Harvard Law School failed to comply with Title IX's requirements for "prompt and equitable response" to complaints of sexual assault. Violations of Title IX could result in the government pulling federal funding if a school fails to reach a resolution agreement with the Department of Education.
As part of the deal, Harvard University agreed to revise its policies, provide safety for victims during investigations and to take criminal action when cases are reported, the agency said. The school also agreed to review all sexual assault cases reported in the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years.
In a statement, Harvard University said it is "deeply committed to fostering a campus climate that is free of sexual harassment, including sexual violence," and that it has adopted new policies and a task force to address the issue. "As the conversation about sexual assault at colleges and universities spread to campuses across the nation, Harvard recognized that, like many peer institutions around the country, we could and should do more," the statement said.
Harvard College, the school's undergraduate section, is still under investigation for its handling of sexual assault cases.
According to the White House, one in five women, and a smaller number of men, are sexually assaulted during their college years, and cases often go unreported.
In May, the Obama administration published a list of more than 50 colleges under investigation for possible violations of federal law in the handling of sexual assault and harassment cases on their campuses.
(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)