Lawmakers urge college rankings to include sex assault rates

April 11, 2014
In The News

Colleges ranked as the best – or worst – in the country by U.S. News & World Report are judged on seven categories: undergraduate academics, graduation rates, retention rates, faculty resources like class size, admissions selectivity, wealth and alumni donations.

Now a dozen members of the House of Representatives are urging U.S. News to add one more category: campus safety.

“Institutions that fail to adequately respond to sexual violence should not receive accolades from your publication,” the lawmakers said Thursday in a blunt letter to U.S. News, which the publication posted on its opinion page.

Federal laws like the Clery Act and Title IX require colleges to investigate assaults, compile crime data and make the numbers public – all things that could go into college rankings. But the lawmakers say schools do a bad job of complying with those laws. Ranking their efforts could inspire improvement.

“Nearly 20 percent of young women are victims of attempted or actual sexual assault, along with 6 percent of young men,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Despite this widespread problem, the National Institute of Justice estimated that 63 percent of universities shirk their legal responsibilities to address sexual violence.”

The lead authors were Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, and Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa. Four other House Democrats from California signed the letter, including the Bay Area’s Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin. Five Democrats from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, as well as a Texas Republican, also signed.

In California, state auditors are looking into how four campuses handle allegations of assault, including UC Berkeley, where 31 current and former students filed federal complaints in February accusing the campus of mishandling investigations and discouraging victims from reporting assaults.

The representatives’ letter points out that parents are especially concerned about safety, but it’s hard for them to know how safe each campus is despite supposed protections from the Clery Act and Title IX.

“Parents and students deserve to know whether these institutions are fulfilling their obligations,” the representatives told the publication.

“We urge you to include violence statistics … and information about institutions’ efforts to prevent and respond to incidents of campus sexual assault … when ranking colleges and universities.”

U.S. News & World Report will consider the lawmakers’ suggestion, said Lucy Lyons, a spokeswoman for the publication.

“We welcome the opportunity to meet with Congresswoman Speier, Congressman Meehan and their colleagues to discuss this issue,” Lyons said, noting that the publication periodically meets with experts to hear their ideas.