FOI advocates now focus on campus court proceedings

Monday, November 16, 1998

While federally funded colleges and universities must now provide more public information about campus crime than ever before, the battle for access is not yet won, panelists at the First Amendment Center said Saturday.

“The campus security provisions in the Higher Education Act are a step in the right direction, but we still need to get access to all information related to crime handled by these secret campus courts,” said Carolyn Carlson, journalism professor at Georgia State University.

Convened as part of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freedom of Information Conference, the panel examined the effects of the Higher Education Act of 1998, which extensively revised the way in which universities and colleges report campus crime.

The act became law with President Clinton’s signature on Oct. 7. It requires all colleges and universities — public and private — that receive federal funding to maintain daily logs of criminal incidents reported to the police or to security offices.

“Perhaps the most significant change in the law is that the schools are required to maintain public police logs,” said S. Daniel Carter, vice-president of Security On Campus, Inc. “This will help us to combat the insidious methods used by universities to privatize campus justice and prevent public access to important information.”

The law expands on the Campus Security Act of 1990 by requiring schools to more fully disclose campus crime statistics. For example, schools are now required to report hate crimes by “category of prejudice.”

Also, the new law stipulates that schools can no longer use the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), known as the Buckley Amendment, to avoid disclosing the outcome of disciplinary proceedings against students found to have committed a violent crime or non-forcible sex offense.

However, the fight for open access on university campuses is far from over, the panelists said.

“FERPA was not amended as extensively as we would have hoped,” Carter said.

“We got about half of what we wanted,” observed Carlson. “We need to expand access to include all criminal behavior. We need access to all records pertaining to these cases, not just the final result. And we need to shine light on the hearings conducted by these secret campus courts so that we can judge whether the system operates fairly.”