The Department of Education is sticking by negative comments an official with the agency’s office of civil rights made about a University of Virginia dean during an interview with disgraced Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
The dean, Allen Groves, says that he was maligned in the article, “A Rape on Campus.” In that now-debunked piece, Erdely asked Catherine Lhamon, a 2013 Obama appointee to head the Department of Education’s civil rights division, about remarks Groves made regarding sexual assault investigations at UVA during a Sept. 2014 board of trustees meeting.
Video of the meeting shows that Groves responded to a question from a trustee about any ongoing sexual assault investigations at the school. While Groves appeared to give a thorough and measured response, Erdely characterized him as much more nefarious in her 9,000-word article.
Erdely wrote that after the trustee asked the question, Groves “swooped in with a smooth answer.” Groves downplayed the inquiry into the school by saying that the Department of Education’s investigation was only “a standard compliance review,” Erdely claimed.
But in fact, as video of the meeting shows, Groves did not “swoop in” with an answer — he was directly asked. He also told the trustee that UVA was being investigated for a specific sexual assault complaint and was also undergoing a standard compliance review.
Lhamon was not at the meeting. But Erdely described Groves’ remarks, and the civil rights officer offered a response, telling the reporter that Groves comments were “deliberate and irresponsible.”
“Nothing annoys me more than a school not taking seriously their review from the federal government about their civil rights obligations,” Lhamon said.
But in a March letter to Steve Coll and Sheila Coronel, the two Columbia University deans who did an independent investigation of Rolling Stone’s failures, Groves pointed to the video of the meeting and said that Erdely’s report “did not reveal the true substance of my response.”
“I can see no basis for the approach that Ms. Erdely took other than bias and malice,” he continued, adding that “the personal and professional damage inflicted as a result was quite real.”
Groves did not directly address Lhamon’s remarks. That’s not a surprise given that Lhamon’s civil rights division holds tremendous sway over most colleges and universities in Title IX cases. Non-compliant schools can lose federal funding or face other sanctions.
Despite Erdely’s apparent mischaracterization of Groves’ comments, the Department of Education is not retreating from Lhamon’s remarks.
“We continue to stand by the statements Catherine made during her interview with Rolling Stone,” Department of Education press secretary Dorie Turner Nolt told The Daily Caller.
But it’s unclear if Lhamon should have been talking to Erdely about UVA in the first place.
Emails obtained by The Daily Caller this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show that Department of Education officials wanted to make sure that Lhamon knew she could not specifically discuss UVA.
In an email the day before Lhamon’s interview with Erdely, Helen Boyer, a confidential assistant at the Department of Education, wanted to confirm with agency spokesman Jim Bradshaw that he “told this reporter that [Lhamon] can’t specifically discuss UVa.”
“Yes, we’ve conveyed that several times,” Bradshaw responded. “The reporter understands that’s off-limits.”
Nolt did not respond to TheDC’s inquiry about whether Lhamon overstepped her boundaries by talking about UVA with Erdely.
Reached for comment, a UVA spokesman referred The Daily Caller to Groves’ letter. The spokesman also said that Groves too had received a response to a FOIA request for records pertaining to Lhamon’s interview with Erdely. He received a document showing that the interview had been scheduled for Lhamon. But the documents did include any notes from the call itself.
It is unclear if Groves plans to follow the lead of Nicole Eramo, another maligned UVA dean. Erdely portrayed Eramo as unsympathetic to the main accuser in “A Rape on Campus.” But Eramo has since come forward to dispute that claim and has filed a $7.5 million defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone.
An email sent to Erdely went unanswered.