Clearing up changes to Higher Education Act

\nWASHINGTON, D.C. – Although Congress recognized the danger\nof allowing schools to cover up campus crime by passing the 1998\namendments to the Higher Education Act, many schools across the\ncountry are still unsure as to how these changes apply to them.

The law has mandated that universities release information in\npolice logs, as well as more information on crime statistics.

\nProperly implemented, these changes could mean enhanced student\nsafety on campuses across the country.

The Department of Education is preparing to release guidelines\nfor schools on how to properly implement the changes, and a committee\nof various government, nonprofit, legal and educational groups\nhas been formed to assist the Department of Education in drafting\nthese regulations.

Daniel Carter, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy group\nSecurity on Campus, says the negotiations are going well, although\nhe is one of the few people representing a pro-access view.

“I see our role in this process as making sure that the regulations\nare drafted so as to afford students, parents and others the best\nand most practical way to access campus crime information,”\nCarter said.

One of the key points being discussed by the committee is the\ndefinition of campus grounds. Under the new provisions, universities\nare required to release statistics about crimes that occur on\ncampus, but the definition of “campus” is unclear. \nCrimes occurring on off-campus student housing, or on public streets\nthat are within campus borders, for instance, were questioned.

One of the proposed solutions to this problem is to let the school\nadministration decide what the borders of its campus are and then\nrequire it to publish maps that mark these boundaries. The publishing\nof these maps would be key in this solution, so that any objections\ncould be voiced if parts of campus are being left out of the boundaries.

Another hot area of debate is the availability and content of\na campus police log. The law says that universities have to make\na log of all campus crimes available during normal business hours\nfor public inspection.

But some, including Delores Stafford, a representative of the\nInternational Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators,\nhave advocated allowing schools to keep records private that unintentionally\nidentify a victim.

If a victim’s name is not printed in a record but a description\nof where the victim lives or a general description of the victim\nis included, schools should be allowed to block release of the\nrecord, these groups have argued.

This loophole could allow schools to withhold more information\nthan necessary, Carter fears.

“With this vagueness, they could withhold almost any information\nat all,” he said.

One other potential loss for openness may be to allow campus counselors\nto withhold statistical information about crime. Currently, counselors\nare required to make public anonymous statistics about the number\nof complaints they receive along with those reported to other\ncampus officials.

But some groups complained that even this nameless report was\nscaring students away from seeking counseling. They argue that\ncounselors should not be required to make any sort of report public.

“The two most significant changes for student newspapers\nwill be enhanced access to campus crime logs … and access to\nthe names of students who have been found guilty of committing\ndisciplinary violations in association with a crime of violence,”\nCarter said.

The conclusions of the committee will be presented to the Department\nof Education later this year.\n