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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Unreported Campus Crime: The Clery Act

     Over the years, colleges and universities have overcharged students and underreported crime. While useless courses and academic programs are bad enough (see: "Majoring in Stupid: Ridiculous College Courses," March 29, 2012), sweeping serious campus crime under the rug is even worse. The reportage and publication of campus crime, for any institution of higher learning, is bad for business. No parent wants to send their kid to a college to get raped, robbed, or murdered. These things happen in real life, not in the Disneyesque college experience. These beautiful and expensive institutions, if not sites of great learning, should at least be places where students are relatively safe from violent crime. Over the years, particularly in the big schools, crimes committed by male athletes have not only been suppressed, they've been covered-up.

     The underreporting of serious crime by college and university administrators led to the passage, in 1990, of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. Under this federal statute, named after a 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman who was raped and murdered in her dormitory in 1986, requires, among other things, that schools keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses. Covered offenses include criminal homicide, sexual offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, arson, motor vehicle theft, and alcohol and drug crimes. Violation of the Clery Act can result in fines up to $27,500 per violation, and exclusion from the federal student aid program.

     In December 2006, Laura Dickinson, a freshman at Eastern Michigan University, was found in her dorm room naked from the waist down with a pillow over her head. The chief of the university police department reported "no reason to suspect foul play," and told the student's parents she had died of natural causes. Two months passed before this death was investigated as a murder. In the meantime, the killer roamed the campus in search of other victims. The president of Eastern Michigan lost his job, and the U.S. Department of Education fined the school $357,500. The university also ended up paying the victim's family $2.5 million.

     In 2006 and 2010, freshmen women at Dominican College in Orangeburg, New York and at Notre Dame, committed suicide after their complaints of sexual assaults against football players were covered-up. After state and federal investigations, both schools agreed to change their crime reporting policies. (Change their policies from what?) The U.S. Department of Education, under the Clery Act, fined Dominican $20,000 for crime underreporting.

     In Texas, the U.S. Department of Education, in 2009, fined Tarleton State University (part of the Texas A&M University system) $137,000 for not accurately reporting its crime statistics. According to the student newspaper, administrators at Tarleton State "underreported the number of forcible sex offenses, drug-law violations, and burglaries between 2003 and 2005." During that period, 10 sex offenses on campus were not reported to the police. The school only reported 29 of more than 60 burglaries.

       In recent years, the Department of Education has accused administrators at Marquette University of mishandling sexual assault accusations against four athletes. Arizona State, in a case involving the rape of a student by a football player with a history of sexual aggression, has been criticized for sweeping this campus crime under the rug.

     At Penn State, in 2002, when an assistant football coach reported to coach Joe Paterno that he had seen Jerry Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the locker room showers, coach Paterno, instead of reporting the accusation to the police, passed the information on to a university administrator. The Department of Education is currently investigating Penn State to determine if the school violated the Clery Act. (Jerry Sandusky will be tried on 52 counts of sexual molestation next month.) This month, the school hired an administrator to train and monitor university employees on compliance with the crime reporting law. (How comforting.)

     In May 2012, Department of Education auditors were on the campus of Roxbury Community College in Boston looking into allegations that at least 3 sexual assault cases had not been reported to the police. Since 2008, the college has only reported 6 on-campus crimes: one robbery and 5 aggravated assaults that were characterized as "fist-fights." These crime statistics are extremely low for an urban campus. 

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