Bill would amend campus crime laws

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The sponsor of a bill that would amend a seven-year-old campus crime law says colleges need to be made accountable for the crimes committed on their campuses.Speaking at a capital hill press conference on February 12, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) told reporters, students and relatives of campus crime victims that if it is passed, the bill, titled The Accuracy in Campus Crime Reporting Act, would close existing loopholes in federal law by amending the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990.The 1990 law requires schools participating in federal financial aid programs to compile and make available statistics of crimes committed on their campuses, but student newspapers and other interested groups have found those numbers are not currently very accessible or accuarate.The most dramatic proposal in the new bill would require that campus disciplinary hearings involving criminal allegations and campus police logs be open to the public, and it would cut a minimum of one percent of federal funding from schools found not complying.Students, parents, and lawmakers are hoping the new requirements will help make campus crime information public. If successful, the bill could boost crime coverage in the student media.The bill would also amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, commonly known as the Buckley Amendment, to prevent schools from using it to deny access to campus disciplinary records involving criminal activity.Duncan emphasized the need to change the way schools gather and distribute campus crime statistics. He said these records are not reported often enough.”All too often, campus crimes are not reported because criminal allegations are being channeled into campus courts that are shielded by federal academic privacy laws” said Duncan. “H.R.715 will remove this shield and force in the light of day through public scrutiny.”Among those who spoke were Connie Clery, who co-founded the watchdog group Security on Campus after her daughter Jeanne was beaten, raped and murdered by another student at Lehigh University in 1986, Thomas D. Burkett, whose son Tommy was killed in 1991 while a student at Marymount University in Virginia, and Steve Geimann, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists.In the cases of the killings, the parents of the victims said they were refused information by school administrators who, in trying to project a safe image for the institution, went against both federal law and published policies on illegal activities by withholding reports about the schools’ campus crime statistics, reports the parents say cost them their children’s lives.The bill does not have an equivalent yet in the Senate, though an aide to Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.) said the issue would be looked at this session during re-authorization of the mammoth Higher Education Act.