Nearly half of AAU members opt out of sexual assault survey

However, spokesman says the project is still 'in good shape'

Many universities have elected to not participate in a survey sponsored by the Association of American Universities (AAU) and designed to track the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, Inside Higher Ed reports.

Overall, 26 of AAU's 60 members told Inside Higher Ed they will not participate in the survey, with many opting to pursue customized assessments instead.

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A controversial project

The survey was conceived by AAU, in part, to preempt efforts in Congress to require universities to gather data on sexual assault annually. By using a standard measure of assessment across institutions, the AAU survey could also provide a way to compare universities. However, the project has come under criticism for lacking the input of experts on sexual assault and being too restrictive with data.

Specifically, some are concerned that AAU has only pledged to publish survey results in aggregate. Laura Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, a victims advocacy group, argued in November that the project "smacks of institutional protectionism."

Alternative approaches

However, Michelle Minter, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity at Princeton University, says choosing to opt out was mainly an issue of timing. As part of a settlement reached with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Princeton was required to notify the government of its plans to conduct a climate survey this week. "There were too many remaining unknowns of how the AAU effort was likely to unfold," says Minter, so the school is pursuing an alternative assessment.

Other schools, such as the University of Rochester, framed their decision as a choice to pursue a customized solution. Sara Miller, a spokeswoman for the university, told Inside Higher Ed via email that "we are designing our own survey so that we can tailor the questions to our own needs."

While Harvard University has opted in to the AAU survey, its Ivy League cousins Columbia University and Yale University declined to say whether or not they were joining the initiative. Despite some high-profile schools declining to participate, AAU spokesman Barry Toiv argues the project is "in good shape." He notes there is still a "broad cross section" of universities participating and "the survey development is on schedule.”

Looming questions

The survey is planned for April, at which point colleges will be faced with a new set of questions. Chief among them is how much survey data they will release to the public. Jason Cody, spokesman for Michigan State University, says "it's fully our intention to make known what that climate survey finds." However, he added that it was unclear whether the school would publish question-level data or a higher-level summary of the results (Stratford, Inside Higher Ed, 1/13; Stratford, Inside Higher Ed, 11/19/14).

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