Snowy Abe on Bascom

UW-Madison's Bascom Hall on a snowy February day.

STEVE APPS — State Journal

UW-Madison is now the second university in the state to be included in a growing probe of possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The investigation now targets 101 schools, including UW-Madison and UW-Whitewater. The initial investigation was launched last May and included 55 schools, Whitewater among them.

Madison, the flagship campus in the University of Wisconsin System, was added to the list last week. It joins such prestigious schools as Harvard, Stanford and Johns Hopkins. Five other Big Ten universities — Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State — are being investigated.

UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas said the university has been notified of the situation and is working with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which is in charge of the ongoing investigation.

“Sexual assault is unacceptable on our campus and we acknowledge the impact of these crimes on our students,” Lucas said in a statement. “We strive to respond promptly and appropriately to all reports of sexual assault and provide resources and support. This is an important issue and the university has worked diligently to ensure its policies comply with federal law and regulations.”

Being included on the list does not mean a university has been found responsible for wrongdoing. It simply means that an investigation has been opened.

Department of Education officials have not included any details of the cases, which are kept sealed as the investigations continue. They’ll say only that the investigations pertain to possible violations of Title IX — the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in schools — and specifically to parts of the law that pertain to reporting sexual violence on campus.

The issue of sexual violence on campus has been under a massive spotlight in the last year, with lawmakers and advocates pointing out that a fifth to a quarter of women will be a victim of sexual violence while in college.

President Barack Obama last year launched a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, calling on college officials and police to study the issue and come up with prevention and reporting tools to curb the problem.

Last week the issue flared locally amid revelations that Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget removed a yearly reporting requirement by the state’s universities about sexual violence.

The University of Wisconsin System asked to be exempted from the reporting requirement to the state, arguing that federal laws including the Clery Act and Title IX already require it to do everything the state currently requires.

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Reporter, Wisconsin State Journal