Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Research and Administration

Committee Chair

Eric Platt

Committee Chair Department

Educational Research and Administration

Committee Member 2

Kyna Shelley

Committee Member 2 Department

Educational Research and Administration

Committee Member 3

Ann Blankenship

Committee Member 3 Department

Educational Research and Administration

Committee Member 4

Rebecca Malley


On April 4, 2011 the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) reminding higher education institutions (HEIs) of their obligations under Title IX to respond to complaints of sexual misconduct. The 2011 DCL was meant to be a guidance document to assist HEIs in complying with Title IX, but many higher education administrators expressed frustrations concerning some of OCR’s requirements. Since releasing the 2011 DCL, OCR has opened more than 200 Title IX investigations at HEIs across the nation. When OCR concludes that a HEI has failed to comply with Title IX, OCR prepares a Letter of Findings (LOFs). This letter outlines OCR’s investigative approach and explains the reason behind their determination of Title IX noncompliance.

This qualitative study examined OCR’s construction of Title IX noncompliance concerning how HEIs responded to sexual misconduct complaints. This study explored the following research questions 1) What discernable trends of Title IX noncompliance are identified in OCR’s published LOFs since the issuing of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter? 2) How does OCR respond to HEIs regarding how sexual misconduct complaints are handled under Title IX? and 3) How does the information found in letters of findings (LOFs) between April 2011 and September 2016 overlap with or add to previous guidance documents provided by OCR? Analyzing LOFs using a social constructionist framework resulted in 9 themes and ancillary findings. Findings demonstrated OCR’s emphasis on social context, identifying trends, and victims. HEIs generally implemented Title IX guidelines, but failed to comply because OCR determined that they did not do enough for victims and the broader campus community. During complaint investigations, OCR is engaging in a comprehensive review of HEIs policies and practices unaffiliated with the original complaint. Lastly, findings also revealed that Title IX noncompliance is a social construct, as OCR’s determination of noncompliance varies. Implications for HEIs and future research are discussed.