U.S. Department of Ed Says Penn State Failed On Protecting Students From Sexual Misconduct

Mar 26, 2020

Old Main, the administration building, on Penn State's University Park campus
Credit Min Xian / WPSU


Penn State has failed to protect some students and hasn’t handled all complaints of sexual harassment appropriately, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which on Thursday released the results of an investigation into the university.


Among the findings are that Penn State violated Title IX by not responding appropriately to complaints of sexual harassment. That includes student complaints in the 2016-17 academic year and complaints first reported to the Athletic Department in 2015-16 and 2017-18.  

The university also gets taken to task for inadequate record-keeping during several years and for how investigations were carried out in 2019-20.

"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," Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus said in a news release.


Marcus said the Office of Civil Rights is pleased Penn State agreed to fix the problems identified and that it will monitor the university to make sure it fulfills the resolution Penn State signed off on.


In a statement, Penn State said many of the findings relate to past practices, which have since been addressed by university 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. Generally,  the resolution agreement requires Penn State to provide additional information to OCR, to update its policies and procedures, and to conduct expanded training for members of the University community,” the statement says.


The investigation stemmed from the Sandusky scandal. The review by the Office of Civil Rights covered 2011-12 through 2019-20 at eight campuses: University Park and the Altoona, Behrend (Erie), Berks, Harrisburg, Hazelton, Schuylkill and Worthington Commonwealth campuses.


According to the release, Penn State has to:

  • provide remedies for survivors whose complaints Penn State didn’t handle “promptly and equitably”;
  • update its tracking of sexual harassment complaints;
  • and report to the Office of Civil Rights on all Title IX complaints for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years.

 In its statement, Penn State says: “With OCR’s guidance, the University will make identified additional improvements in how it responds to allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. We will continue to provide support, resources and services to those who may have been impacted by incidents of sexual or gender-based misconduct, and will oversee the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints for all involved.”