Editor’s note: This piece is a collaboration between the Hyde Park Herald and The Chicago Maroon.
The U.S. Department of Education (E.D.) will investigate the University of Chicago Title IX Office following a retaliation complaint by a recently dismissed Ph.D. student, whose allegations and fundraising efforts have gained a high profile on social media over the past few weeks.
Zain Jamshaid, a former Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies, contacted the E.D. after the University dismissed him from his program, citing a lack of academic progress. In March 2020, Jamshaid filed a Title IX complaint against a faculty member in his department; the complaint detailed an alleged sexual assault and a pattern of harassment in 2015 and 2016.
The University’s Panel on Unlawful Harassment rejected Jamshaid’s complaint in August, finding that the faculty member had not violated the school’s Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, and Sexual Misconduct.
Jamshaid, who had been placed on academic probation in May 2020 for lack of progress on his dissertation, was withdrawn from his program in December. He characterized his removal as retaliation for filing the complaint.
“To me, this is just slam-dunk retaliation for the sexual assault disclosures, because the program’s behavior toward me changed immediately…after I made it,” he told the Hyde Park Herald and The Maroon.
University spokesperson Gerald McSwiggan responded to Jamshaid’s assertion in a written statement.
“Retaliatory actions in response to any report of sexual misconduct would violate the law, University policy, and the expectations we have for all faculty and staff,” he wrote. “Any student or other person at the University who makes a report of sexual misconduct is legally protected from retaliatory action, and the University does not tolerate such actions.”
Jamshaid filed a complaint with the E.D. in late December. In a response letter shared with the Herald and The Maroon, the E.D.’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) wrote: “Because OCR has determined that it has jurisdiction over the allegation, OCR will investigate the complaint. Please note that opening an investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to the allegation’s merits.”
The OCR is responsible for enforcing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. OCR investigations are meant to determine whether an institution is in compliance with Title IX requirements.
Because the University receives federal funding from the E.D. tied to its enforcement of Title IX, an investigation finding evidence of University negligence or retaliation could result in a reduction of federal funds. No college has ever lost funding for violating Title IX, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, though some have had to pay court fees and damages.
The University confirmed that it had been notified of the investigation. McSwiggan said that “the allegations in the complaint are without merit” but wouldn’t release details about the case, citing privacy considerations.
E.D. investigations are not uncommon: According to data from ProPublica, there were 18 investigations of the University between 2013 and 2017 over alleged civil rights violations. Two of those cases were settled through Early Complaint Resolution, a process in which the two parties involved voluntarily resolve the complaint; other cases were resolved with “no violations or corrective changes.” (The ProPublica database shows similar numbers for peer institutions like Harvard University and Columbia University.)
In the weeks since his dismissal from the University, Jamshaid, an international student whose University-sponsored visa was terminated, has set up a GoFundMe page to help replace his academic stipend, cover costs of applying for asylum, and pay for a potential lawsuit against the school.
In his GoFundMe description, Jamshaid writes “a return to rural Pakistan, a region I have not seen in 25 years, would mean a sure death for me as an out gay man.”
The campaign, which had raised nearly $27,000 as of February 3, has garnered considerable attention on social media, with activist groups like UC United pledging to match donations to the fund. Mike Van Der Naald, the president of Graduate Students United (GSU) said the union helped organize a petition for Jamshaid to remain in the Ph.D. program and met with him to discuss his options before his visa termination.
The E.D. did not respond to a request for comment by press time.