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May 2, 2014

55 colleges face federal sex assault investigation

DETROIT — Some of the 55 colleges and universities facing federal investigation for their handling of sexual abuse allegations say they're cooperating with the U.S. Education Department, though few are offering details about what information the agency is seeking.

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is one of only a handful of schools named by federal officials Thursday to publicly reveal anything about why the department is investigating. The probe involves the school's handling of a reported 2009 violation of its sexual misconduct policy by then-football placekicker Brendan Gibbons, who was expelled this past December.

Michigan is "fully cooperating" with the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, school spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said.

"They were on campus a week or so ago doing some interviews with faculty, staff and students," Fitzgerald said. "We've had information related to the investigation posted on our website since they informed us about the investigation toward the end of February. This is well-known on campus."

A student government group that examined the school's student sexual misconduct policy said last month that it planned to share with investigators its determination that the university failed to explain the delay between the alleged incident and Gibbons' expulsion.

The Obama administration is seeking more openness about the issue of sexual violence on and around the nation's campuses. On Thursday, the Education Department revealed its list of schools facing investigations that were started after complaints were filed with its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) or as part of a review to see whether the schools were complying with Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at institutions receiving federal funds.

It is the same law that guarantees girls and women equal access to sports, but it also regulates institutions' handling of sexual violence and increasingly is being used by victims who say their schools failed to protect them.

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