- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Four Senate Democrats, including Virginia’s Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, have asked the Biden administration’s Education Department to investigate the handling of sexual-abuse complaints at Lynchburg’s Liberty University.

According to reports from Lynchburg television station WSET and ProPublica, an independent media organization, Mr. Warner, Mr. Kaine, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington want answers to allegations the evangelical Christian school has mishandled reports of sexual assaults filed by students and staff.

ProPublica quoted a Casey spokesperson as saying their office “has been in touch with the Education Department” over the issue.

Liberty, which has a resident student body of 15,000, is already the subject of a class-action “Jane Doe” lawsuit from 22 current and former students alleging the school mishandled such reports. Among the allegations, the students say they were not told they could report such attacks to local police.

In a statement to The Washington Times, Sen. Kaine said, “Any campus policy that deters or discourages a survivor of sexual assault from speaking out and seeking justice is wrong. Students who bravely speak out deserve to be heard and to have their claims taken seriously. My office is urging the Department of Education to investigate these claims against Liberty and take appropriate action.”

According to WSET, Mr. Warner said, “While Liberty should act immediately to remedy the issues alleged in the report, it would also be appropriate for the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education to look into Liberty’s procedures for dealing with sexual assault cases.”

A Liberty spokesperson told The Times that the school “has been very clear about how seriously it is taking the allegations made in the Jane Doe lawsuit but these allegations, some 30 years old, should not give the misimpression that Liberty University isn’t fully compliant with all laws with regard to its Title IX policies and procedures today. Nonetheless, the university is conducting an independent review of its processes to determine if any policies or procedures need to be modified. The university extends an invitation to Virginia senators Kaine and Warner to visit the campus when it’s convenient to discuss their concerns with our executive leadership. We hope the senators’ comments do not represent an unhelpful politicization of such a serious issue.”

An Education Department spokesman did not provide an official comment when contacted by The Times. The agency’s civil rights office online database (https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/investigations/open-investigations/tix.html) lists two pending Title IX investigations involving Liberty, one from 2015 and one from 2020. Neither indicates sexual assault complaints as part of the probes, and nothing from 2021 is listed involving the university.

Liberty University president Jerry Prevo said Thursday the school’s board would vote to implement an independent investigation of sexual harassment, abuse, and assualt complaints on the 50-year-old school’s campus.

At a student convocation, Mr. Prevo promised, “I can tell you this, we’re not going to try to cover up anything, we’re going to look back, have that investigated. And also, if we’ve done wrong, we’re going to correct that wrong the best we can. I’m not here to cover up.”

Critics of the school say its promises are insufficient.

A 2018 Liberty graduate, Dustin Wahl, who leads “Save 71,” a group of students and alumni seeking reforms, welcomed the senators’ assistance.

“We hope that outside accountability will begin to fix the corruption that Liberty’s leaders have long refused to acknowledge,” Mr. Wahl said via text message.

“Liberty’s board announced an investigation last week, but gave no details about who would conduct the investigation and whether the results would be public, and they specifically limited the scope to only cover Title IX,” Mr. Wahl added.

“That is the opposite of the truly independent, fully transparent investigation into Liberty’s policies, systems, and culture that student advocates have been calling for. The board’s announcement appears to be yet another dishonest attempt to avoid real accountability.

And it gives us another reason to hope that real accountability comes from outside, like from the Department of Education,” he said.

Spokespersons for Sens. Warner, Casey and Murray did not immediately respond to The Times’ inquiries.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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