Cornell to Administer Controversial Sexual Assault Survey

Even though more than two dozen universities have opted out, Cornell is one of 27 universities that will participate in a broad-based sexual assault survey conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU). The anonymous survey, to be administered this spring, will collect information from over 800,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students at the participating schools, which would make it the largest ever of its kind. The AAU will release the aggregate data to the public, but individual university data will only be available to the respective university administration. The survey is not without controversy. Though universities including Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Michigan are participating, 26 member institutions of the AAU, including Princeton and the University of Kansas, have declined to administer it for a variety of reasons mostly related to concerns about its effectiveness. Some of these institutions, like Duke University and Boston University, are designing their own campus-specific surveys.

One eye-brow-raising issue is the “about $85,000” cost for each institution to administer the survey. In addition, many sexual assault researchers have criticized the AAU for not planning to release campus-specific data and for an overall lack of transparency in the development of the survey. In fact, even though the “aggressive” timeline set forth by the AAU promises the survey will be ready for April administration, it has yet to be developed. Westat, the company AAU contracted to help design and implement the survey, is also not without controversy: last year it paid a $1.5 million to settle claims that it systematically discriminated against women and minorities in its hiring process.

Hunter Rawlings III, the AAU’s president and Cornell’s president from 1995 to 2002, argues that the purpose of this survey is to prevent Congressional efforts to pass legislation that would mandate all universities participate in government-designed sexual assault surveys. Such a bill, co-sponsored by New York Democrat Senator Kristen Gillibrand, already exists. 

An AAU press release reads: “[W]e have been deeply concerned about the possibility of Congress or the Administration mandating that campuses conduct a government-developed survey. Such an initiative would likely be a one-size-fits-all survey that would provide potentially misleading data, given the extraordinary diversity of higher education in our country, and would not reliably assess the campus culture on this issue.”

2 Comments on Cornell to Administer Controversial Sexual Assault Survey

  1. David Breznick // January 27, 2015 at 10:35 pm //

    I smell a conflict of interest.

  2. Sexual assault has been an issue swept under the carpet by universities for many years. It was true when I attended a large state university back in the dark ages (1968-72). Sexual assault cases were either ignored, minimized or denied to exist. Traditionally assaults were handled by “campus police”, which was a joke. School were effectively a no police zone. except in very special cases.
    No data was collected so no evidence was available. After all, what parent wants to send their daughter to a school where she has a better than average chance of being assaulted on campus. Look at the schools refusing to participate. Ask yourself why ? They certainly do not want the hallowed reputations dirtied by data!
    Schools have not addressed this problem of violence against women in the last 50 years. It is time for society to take charge. Schools cannot be sanctuaries for violence against women.

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