American Council on Education and Senator McCaskill Clash on Sexual Assault Surveys

May 13, 2014

Last month, Senator Claire McCaskill sent a survey to 450 colleges and universities nationwide in order to collect information about how the institutions are handling sexual assault allegations on campus. On Monday, McCaskill claimed that the American Council on Education (ACE) was discouraging institutions from responding to the survey through a webinar ACE offered recently, titled “Briefing on Congressional Investigations and the McCaskill Survey.”

ACE’s general counsel, Ada Meloy, maintains that ACE was simply responding to requests from colleges and universities seeking guidance as to their legal obligations and other considerations and that “[t]here was absolutely no effort to discourage any one from responding.”

In a letter (PDF) sent to ACE President Molly Corbett Broad yesterday, McCaskill wrote that “several representatives of educational institutions [said] that the webinar cautioned institutions regarding whether and how they would respond to the survey.” She then requested “copies of the webinar and any written materials” used in the presentation, as well as “a list of the institutions that participated in the webinar … no later than May 16, 2014” so that she could assess the effect the webinar might have had on the survey.

In response to a request for that information via an earlier phone call from the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, of which McCaskill is chair, Meloy sent a letter explaining the purpose of the webinar and her concerns with disclosing the attendee list:

Since the Survey of Campus Sexual Violence Policies and Procedures has been sent to 450 institutions, it has received significant attention by our members most of whom are not familiar with the congressional investigation process. ACE therefore provided the free webinar for those who wished to sign up. We do not consider it appropriate to release the PowerPoint slides or the attendee list. As a membership association, we feel that we need to serve our members and that the requests you have made intrude on their rights to association. The webinar was open to all our members, and we do not know which ones received the survey. Given the attention this large survey has received, we believe some members who did not receive the survey were registered. Just as we understand your office has assured responding institutions of confidentiality, we owe our members similar protection from any adverse consequences for joining in this educational offering provided by ACE.

FIRE will continue to watch for updates.