School found in violation of federal law

MINNESOTA — In September the U.S. Department of Education found Moorhead State University in violation of the federal Campus Security Act, the first time any school has been investigated and found in “non-compliance” with the five-year-old law.The Education Department handed down its much-anticipated decision to eager student journalists and campus crime activists. These groups have long-suspected many schools do not comply with the federal law.The Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act, passed by Congress in 1990, requires universities receiving federal funding to compile and release campus crime statistics. The data covers various incidents, including assaults, robberies and hate crimes. The law is meant to help students and staff make informed decisions concerning their work and study environments. Additionally, the information aids student journalists in reporting on campus crime.The Department’s review cited Moorhead’s non-compliance with the security act, but did not impose sanctions. Further action was threatened, however, if changes were not made within a month. Ann B. Hageman, the Education Department official in charge of the investigation, is reviewing whether Moorhead is now in compliance.The evaluation, released by the Education Department’s Region V office in Chicago, took issue with many irregularities in Moorhead’s listing of key statistics in their annual security report. The review, for example, criticizes the college for estimating crime statistics instead of compiling exact numbers. Estimates were based on information provided to the school by the town police department. These figures, defined by a grid system of the entire city, do not even cover all university-owned buildings.There were other errors that the department considered serious. Reviewers found that “the institution had apparently failed to consistently report carryover data.” For example, in 1992, zero aggravated assaults are reported. In 1993, however, they reported the 1992 figure as being seven.The school’s security report contained other irregularities. The university did not compile and disclose hate crimes, as required by law. The university also did not have a cohesive program of “timely warning.” This is the widespread on-campus notification of potential criminal danger to the community.The group investigating Moorhead concluded, “The crime statistics included in the institution’s annual security report do not reflect the number of actual crimes reported to campus officials.” The review stated that contrary to the assurances of school officials, all crimes brought to the attention of university officials were not referred to the local police.Moorhead also failed to inform students and faculty about the availability of security reports. The Education Department specifies that compiled crime statistics must be given to all students at the beginning of each school year. Previously, students at Moorhead had to provide written requests for the information.The inspection of Moorhead was initiated by a complaint to the department by Margaret Jakobson, a former student, two years ago. After the complaint in November 1995, the university admitted to reporting problems and promised to correct any errors.Early in 1996, however, Jakobson complained to the Education Department that the university had not made any corrections or distributed revised reports. An on-sight investigation of Moorhead by the department followed in April. Investigators then turned up more problems and confirmed that “contrary to the assurances provided in the University’s letters, the corrections…had not been made.”In the past, the school has attributed errors to “confusion” about the exact requirements of the security act.There are a variety of punishments for colleges that are found in violation of the law, including the potential loss of federal funds. The severity may be lessened depending on whether the misreporting was intentional or not. So far, the Department of Education has indicated it will be satisfied with simply insuring that Moorhead’s problems are corrected.When the investigation results were released, Moorhead was given 30 days to respond. It was required to list its corrective actions and an exhaustive review of how it will successfully comply with the act in the future.S. Daniel Carter, an official at Security on Campus, a non-profit group that monitors campus safety issues, said Moorhead should still be watched.”We hope the department will fully investigate to ensure corrections have been made.”The Education Department’s ruling is a trophy of sorts for campus crime advocates and student journalists. They have criticized the department’s previously self-described lack of “priority” in aggressively checking schools’ compliance with the Campus Security Act.The Education Department cites a lack of resources that this large task would require. Since the Moorhead investigation began, the department has cited over a dozen schools for possible violations. Complaints have also been filed against Miami University of Ohio and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.