- Dartmouth College and nine plaintiffs in a Title IX class-action lawsuit announced Tuesday that they reached a settlement over allegations that the institution mishandled complaints of sexual misconduct and discrimination over a 16-year period.
- The lawsuit alleged that three tenured male professors in the college's psychological and brain sciences department "leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated and even raped female students." The university denied claims it ignored the complaints.
- A court must approve the settlement, which asks for $14 million and says the college will support campus programming designed to identify and reduce the risk of sexual misconduct.
In the wake of the lawsuit filed last November, Dartmouth announced several changes it said will help create "a learning environment free from sexual harassment and the abuse of power." Those included conducting an external review of all academic departments, expanding its Title IX office and adopting a single sexual misconduct policy.
The efforts make up its Campus Climate and Culture Initiative (C3I), which the college said on its website was underway prior to an investigation into the claims made against the professors in 2017.
Dartmouth spokesperson Justin Anderson told Education Dive in an email that the college agreed to support several elements of C31 through the settlement, including:
- Expanding the provost's diversity fund
- Connecting the plaintiffs with C3I's external advisor committee to help solicit feedback across campus
- Increasing resources for victims of sexual misconduct through Dartmouth's partnership with WISE, as needed
The college also replaced single graduate research advisors with a committee. "This will ensure that a graduate student will never again be subject to the potentially problematic power imbalance of a single advisor," Anderson wrote. Faculty and staff are also required to participate in Title IX training.
In a statement posted on the institution's website, Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon said the college "learned lessons that we believe will enable us to root out this behavior immediately if it ever threatens our campus community again."
The plaintiffs said in a statement that they plan to work with Dartmouth to "continue addressing the systemic roots of power-based personal violence and gender-based discrimination across all levels of severity so that our experiences — and those of the class we represent — are never repeated."
Colleges nationwide are facing more scrutiny for how they handle sexual misconduct complaints, and the stakes are high. Officials at Michigan State University and the University of Southern California, among others, have recently been called out for allegedly ignoring or not properly responding to such complaints. Those institutions settled with victims for $500 million and $215 million, respectively.
At Michigan State, three former officials have been charged over how the university handled complaints of sexual misconduct against former university sports doctor Larry Nassar. One has been convicted, while two others, including former president Lou Anna Simon, face charges.
How institutions handle complaints is the focus of many sexual harassment lawsuits. In 2016 and 2017 alone, colleges paid out $10.5 million across 59 settlements, most of which pertained to how complaints were addressed, The Wall Street Journal reported.