House discusses pros, cons of open campus crime logs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A House of Representatives subcommittee heard over two hours of “eye-opening” and sometimes emotional testimony about campus crime in early June from a series of eight panelists, including school administrators, victims of campus crime, a professional journalist and a Department of Education official.The Postsecondary Education, Training and Life-long Learning subcommittee of the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunity heard testimony June 6 regarding HR 2416, the “Open Campus Police Logs Act of 1995,” proposed by Rep. John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN.)HR 2416 would require institutions of higher education that receive federal funding, including student financial aid, to maintain campus security crime logs with information including the times and locations of campus crimes and the names of students arrested.The first of the two panels that testified regarding the bill was made up of education professionals and a member of the professional media. David Longanecker, assistant secretary for postsecondary education; Douglas Tuttle, director of public safety at the University of Delaware and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators; Patricia Maguire, president of Trinity College in Washington, D.C.; and Carolyn Carlson, vice chairman of the Society of Professional Journalist’s Campus Courts Task Force were on the first panel.The second panel yielded much more emotional testimony than the first and included people who have felt the effects of campus crime firsthand. The panel included Connie and Benjamin Clery, the mother and brother of Jeanne Clery, who was brutally murdered by a fellow student at Lehigh University in 1986; Christy Brzonkala, a former Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) student who was allegedly sexually assaulted by two Virginia Tech football players; and Margaret Jakobsen, a campus crime reporting advocate who has filed Campus Security Act non-compliance claims with the Department of Education against Moorhead State University in Minnesota.While the majority of panelists spoke in favor of the proposed bill, Longanecker and Maguire both suggested that the DOE focus on enforcing the laws already in place before enacting more. Schools are currently mandated to report crime statistics under the Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act which was signed into law in 1990. Maguire expressed doubt that Duncan’s bill would prevent future crimes from occurring, saying, “Reporting does not have a deterrent effect on crime. Notification doesn’t cause precaution.”Trinity, a small Catholic women’s college in D.C., differs from most colleges not only by its size, but because most criminal activity being dealt with by the school occurs in the neighborhood around the campus, not on the campus itself. According to Connie Clery, a bill supporter, however, 80 percent of crimes on college campuses are student against student.Maguire and some of the subcommittee members were also concerned that the legislation would increase the amount of paperwork required by security officers, taking away from time they could be spending on the street. Some also pointed out that the bill does not provide schools with funding to implement the new reporting requirements.Neither side of the debate disputes that school administrators are not currently acting in accordance with the 1990 law, though opinions differ about why the reported statistics are consistently wrong.Longanecker maintained the Department of Education’s belief that school administrators want to comply with the law but are confused about how to do so. He denied allegations that administrators intentionally hide information from students and the press to protect themselves and their school’s reputations.”Schools are trying to follow the spirit, if not the letter of the law,” he said, adding that the DOE’s focus since enactment of the Campus Security Act has been following up on complaints and helping institutions come into compliance. So far, he said, the DOE has determined that 30 schools are not complying with the law. He said no penalties have been given, however, because the DOE does not feel that the noncompliance has been intentional.Connie Clery attacked the crime statistics laws penalty for noncompliance. Currently, if schools are found in violation of the laws, the DOE can cut off access to their federal funding. Clery said this denial of funding is, “an atom bomb administrators know they will never be subjected to.”Only one official complaint has been filed with the DOE under the Campus Security Act, Longanecker said. That complaint was filed by panelist Jakobsen against Moorhead State University in Minnesota.On the other side of the issue, however, journalists, educators and campus crime victims like Brzonkala and Jakobsen say that administrators intentionally use loopholes to hide campus crime. They say student victims of crimes on campus are victimized not only by their attackers, but by campus judiciary systems that refuse to effectively report and punish crime.Carlson testified that colleges and universities intentionally use secret campus court proceedings to avoid complying with the Campus Security Act. She said administrators wrongfully hold student judiciary meetings in private to protect prominent campus figures, such as athletes and student government officers, from the embarrassment of public charges of wrongdoing.Brzonkala testified that Virginia Tech used secret campus court hearings to make it easy for her alleged attackers, both football players, to refute her claims while making it difficult for her to support them. She said, “Virginia Tech used FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] to make sure we had very few facts.” After two secret campus court hearings, both of the accused players in her case were allowed back on the field the next season.Among other things, supporters of the bill hope that it will clarify once and for all the provisions and limitations set forth by the FERPA, also known as the Buckley Amendment.FERPA prohibits schools from releasing students “education records.” According to some journalists and educators, school administrators systematically use Buckley to prevent the results of campus disciplinary proceedings involving accusations of criminal activity from being released to the public by describing them as education records.Longanecker said the DOE has attempted to clear up the confusion about FERPA by sending a “Dear Colleague” letter to schools around the country explaining the provisions of the law and the DOE’s guidelines for enforcing them.Clery summarized much of the argument of the bill supporters when she testified that students on college campuses are systematically denied information that they would be legally entitled to if they did not live on campus. This information includes the types of crimes committed on campuses, the location of crimes or the names of students charged by the campus police, she said.”This law would insure uniformity of information for the American public,” Carlson said.