A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressuring Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to keep publishing the list of colleges and universities under Title IX investigations for alleged mishandling of sexual violence reports, calling it "critical" for "ensuring accountability."
The letter, obtained by BuzzFeed News, was signed by 20 members of the House and sent Wednesday to DeVos and Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights.
"Ending sexual violence on our college campuses will never become a reality if college and university communities are kept in the dark," states the letter, which was organized by Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is co-chair of the Congressional Task Force to End Sexual Violence.
The US Department of Education began publishing the list of schools under investigation for possible Title IX violations when responding to sexual violence in May 2014, following pressure by student activists demanding more transparency. Previously, the department would only say which schools were, or were not, under investigation if asked about the schools by name.
The list ballooned from 55 campuses in its first release on May 1, 2014, to 243 in the latest version issued Wednesday by the department. Advocacy groups are now lobbying the department to keep releasing the updated list after administration officials suggested this practice may end.
"The Department of Education's role isn't to serve as PR consultants for these schools; it is to protect students," Mahroh Jahangiri, executive director of Know Your IX, told BuzzFeed News. "It is critical that the Department does its job by holding schools accountable and providing students and their families with the information they deserve about whether their school is following — or violating — the law."
Jackson has referred to it as a "list of shame" and said the department's Office for Civil Rights should not "facilitate drawing media or public attention" to institutions it regulates. DeVos would not commit during her confirmation process to continue publishing the list.
"This is not about shaming colleges and universities," the letter states. "The OCR has an obligation to serve and protect students, which includes ensuring that survivors of sexual violence and harassment have access to educational opportunities free from discrimination, as is their right under Title IX."
The list has long evoked pushback from schools.
"I literally had a Catholic president of a university tell me that I was going to go to hell because I published the list of schools under investigation," Catherine Lhamon, who served as assistant secretary for civil rights under the Obama administration, said at a conference in April at Stanford University.
Democrats have hammered DeVos over civil rights issues. But the Wednesday letter is almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Another bipartisan group of lawmakers, including several who signed Wednesday's letter, also wrote to DeVos last month urging her to keep in place a 2011 directive on how schools should handle sexual violence reports.