Senate adopts campus-crime disclosure amendment
The U.S. Senate unanimously adopted an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1998 last week intended to eliminate deception in reporting of campus crime statistics by college officials.
Amendment 3109 does away with loopholes in federal laws requiring colleges and universities to disclose statistics on crimes that occur on their campuses. It also requires the imposition of civil penalties for institutions that fail to compile accurate reports in accordance with the law.
The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., now goes to a conference committee where members of the Senate and the House are expected to incorporate different versions of amendments to the Higher Education Act into one piece of legislation.
Security on Campus, a Pennsylvania-based campus violence prevention group, applauded Thursday's vote. SOC was a major force behind the legislation.
SOC Vice President S. Daniel Carter said: “The next phase will be determining which provisions in House and Senate language would best serve safety on college campuses.”
SOC's Web site lists a side-by-side comparison of the differences between the campus security provisions of the House and Senate versions. Carter said those differences are likely to be resolved in August. “We're recommending all of the Specter amendment provisions,” he said.
Specter decided to introduce the amendment after Senate hearings in March revealed that University of Pennsylvania officials had disclosed only 18 campus robberies in 1995 while campus police had actually dealt with 181 reports.
University of Pennsylvania President Judith Rodin explained the omission of the 163 robbery reports by claiming that the school “needed to texture the statistics” in order not to appear as the most dangerous college in the Ivy League. Incidents on public streets, sidewalks and restaurants at the school had been excluded from the federally required report.
During the March hearings, David Longanecker of the U.S. Department of Education testified that sidewalks and public lands are excluded from the department's current definition of “campus.” Further testimony showed that buildings used for commercial as well as educational purposes also do not fall within the department's interpretation of “campus.”
Specter's bill interprets the term “campus” to include:
- Any building or property owned or controlled by an institution of higher education within the same reasonably contiguous geographic area of the institution, including a building or property owned by the institution, but controlled by another person, such as a food or other retail vendor;
- Any building or property owned or controlled by a student organization recognized by the institution;
- All public property that is within the same reasonably contiguous geographic area of the institution, such as a sidewalk, a street, other thoroughfare, or parking facility, that provides immediate access to facilities owned or controlled by the institution;
- Any building or property owned, controlled, or used by an institution of higher education in direct support of, or related to the institution's educational purposes, that is used by students, and that is not within the same reasonably contiguous geographic area of the institution;
- All dormitories or other student residential facilities owned or controlled by the institution.
Under the amendment, schools that alter or omit certain crime statistics could face up to a $25,000 fine.
After the Senate vote, Specter said, “I am pleased that my Senate colleagues agree with me on the need for this clarification. Accuracy in campus crime reporting is essential to give students the fullest possible picture of the risks that they face, so that they can protect themselves against becoming victims of theft or violence.”
Specter re-named the amendment “The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act,” in honor of the late student. Clery was a Bryn Mawr, Penn., native, who was brutally raped and murdered at Lehigh University in 1986.
Specter credited Clery's parents, Howard and Connie Clery, the founders of SOC, for bringing the issue of campus crime to his attention.