Iowa college first to be fined for violating Campus Security Act

Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Officials at Mount St. Clare College in Clinton, Iowa, say they will appeal a $25,000 fine imposed by the U.S. Department of Education — the first such action for alleged violation of the Campus Security Act, which requires colleges to disclose all campus crimes.

The requirement, important particularly to prospective and current students, is designed to provide information on the number of offenses — from hate crimes to homicides — on and off campus. The Department of Education recently announced that students also will be able to access such campus crime statistics at U.S. and Canadian universities in a new online database.

Mount St. Clare College denied 10 of the 15 violations in the DOE’s report in March, but hasn’t heard anything about those challenges, the Clinton (Iowa) Herald reported.

“We are appealing because we feel we did not do anything wrong,” Effie Hall, director of college relations, told the Herald. “The regulations are ambiguous. We thought we did not have to report a crime unless there was a conviction. We had crime-statistic-reporting policies, but we didn’t have everything listed in one brochure.”

However, S. Daniel Carter, vice president of Security On Campus Inc., a national nonprofit advocacy group, told The Freedom Forum Online that confusion is a poor excuse for breaking the law.

“Since 1996 the DOE has made it abundantly clear how schools are expected to comply with the campus security reporting obligations, and any school claiming that the guidance was unclear has not made even a minimal effort to obtain or understand it,” Carter said. “These materials are easily available from the SOC Web site. Additionally, the DOE offers technical assistance to any school that asks.

“Any school faced with a significant level of confusion about how to report may also have problems actually ensuring the security of their students,” he said.

The DOE seems to agree with Carter.

“The false picture MSC presents is even more detrimental in light of the fact that the school portrays itself as a ‘safe’ place to attend school,” wrote Mary Gust, acting director of the Administrative Actions and Appeals Division, in a letter to MSC’s President James Ross, the Herald reported.

Carter said when a college or university does not allocate adequate resources to security, it should be considered a red flag about its ability to protect its students.

“Too many schools are very willing to claim either that they are safe or offer a wide array of security services, without a commitment to back that up,” he said. “If they were going to err, they should have erred on the side of informing their students about crime, not hiding it.”

MSC was fined $15,000 for its failure to report crime statistics sufficiently, $5,000 for failure to reveal campus security reports to prospective students and employees and $5,000 for omitting a required campus security policies statement. The 15 incidents from 1993-99 include seven aggravated assaults, three forcible sex offenses, four burglaries and one arrest for liquor law violations.

“The fine is not fair or appropriate or consistent with other actions. Another college was cited for incomplete reporting and given a reprimand,” Hall told the Clinton Herald.

Carter disagreed: “Although we believe that the DOE should have issued fines in previous cases, given the strong public statement of congressional intent made about the time this case was initiated (in 1998), it is hardly unfair for them to be fined.”

He said Hall’s reference to another school’s being reprimanded probably was to the West Virginia Wesleyan case, which began in December 1997. This was before Congress’ 1998 amendment to the Campus Security Act of 1990 emphasizing that violators of the law would be fined. The law was renamed the Clery Act in memory of Jeanne Clery, a freshman at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania who was murdered in 1986.

The MSC case was initiated in fall 1998 when the new reporting and enforcement provisions were added into the law. Carter said the MSC fine was a positive sign for the future.

“We are glad that the DOE is beginning to show signs of taking the Clery Act enforcement more seriously,” he said. “But (we) remain concerned that DOE officials are still not performing sufficient random reviews to find possible violators and often don’t know about proper enforcement procedures.

“This fine will serve as a clear motivator to other schools to be much more vigilant in their campus security reporting,” Carter said. “An unenforced law is no law at all, which has been a major problem in securing anything more than cursory compliance. With regard to the Clery Act, that sad era is now over.”

The DOE has until July 29 to file a brief in the MSC appeal. MSC has until Sept. 12 to respond.

Meanwhile, the DOE, through its new online database, is seeking to he make the campus crime statistics readily available.

“It’s going to be kind of one-stop shopping,” John King, head of security at Tufts University and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, told the Associated Press. “Instead of having to gather information from four or five different schools, now you can just go to one place and compare.”

Education officials will begin to compile their first round of statistics in August and plan to present the 2000 numbers to Congress in December, the AP said. Security personnel from more than 300 campuses around the world were briefed on the database yesterday during an annual conference in Boston.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.