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Grand Forks Herald, March 15, 2001


Michael Benedict, Herald Staff Writer


The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint it received that names UND.

OCR spokeswoman Melinda Ulloa said she's forbidden to discuss what the complaint alleges. A federal law also gives anonymity to people who report human rights abuses.

She said the complaint was received Dec. 18, and the investigation was opened Feb. 27.

OCR is also evaluating a second complaint it received in February from a UND student and a professor.

The second complaint is connected to UND's use of its Fighting Sioux nickname, a source told the Herald in February. OCR's Kansas City office received the second complaint Feb. 2. The office, however, declined a Freedom of Information Act request from the Herald to release either complaint.

One is under investigation. The other is under evaluation, Ulloa said. If it's found that it is unwarranted, it (the investigation) is dropped. If it's found there is a problem, the department works with the university to rectify it.

Complaints found warranted are almost always resolved voluntarily, Ulloa said. OCR received 4,897 complaints last year.

If OCR finds UND not compliant with the federal Civil Rights Act, and UND's administration refuses to fix the problem, OCR could pull federal funding from the university.

Sometimes the school really doesn't know that they're doing something, said Ulloa. In most cases, 99.9 percent of the cases work with the Office of Civil Rights to come into compliance.

If UND isn't compliant with the Civil Rights Act, it would work with OCR to end the problem, said Julie Evans, UND general counsel.

But because OCR hasn't notified the administration about the investigation, or complaints, Evans said, UND doesn't know what the university is allegedly doing wrong.

We have no idea what the substance of this complaint is yet, Evans said. We haven't been notified... but we're always willing to work with the Office for Civil Rights.

Bill Dittmeier, an attorney with OCR, said there is an exemption in the FOIA law that allows OCR to deny information requests if its release could hinder an investigation.