There are two sides to a university campus. There are the colorfulbrochures handed out by the public relations office, and eventhe daily facade of a safe environment.
But there is another side that administrators often do not wantstudents to know about-the assault, the theft, the harassment.That is why it can be so difficult to obtain records detailingan incident of campus crime. Hundreds of student journalists tellthe Student Press Law Centerthat each year. And now we have first-hand knowledge that yourexperience is not unique.
Over a period of several weekdays in June and July, the SPLC Reportstaff visited campus police departments and judicial affairs officesat schools located near our office in Arlington, Va. We decidedto ask for crime statistics for 1997, the police log for the weekof April 26, a randomly selected date, and the outcomes of studentdisciplinary proceedings for the 1999 spring semester.
Under the CampusSecurity Act, also known as the Clery Act, all schools arerequired to publish crime statistics for each year, broken downby crime. In the fall of 1998, Congress also required schoolsto keep open campus police or security department logs. Both ofthese requirements are included in Volume 20 United States Code,section 1092(f).
In 1998, Congress also amended the FamilyEducational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as the BuckleyAmendment, to say that schools can release the outcomes of certainstudent disciplinary proceedings involving crimes of violenceand non-forcible sex offenses without notifying the disciplinedstudent in advance. (20 U.S.C. section 1232g(b)(6)(B)). Therefore,federal law does not prohibit schools from releasing the nameof a student found guilty of such an offense, the violation committedand the sanction imposed. Although federal law does not now requirethese records to be released, public schools covered by theirstate open records law may be obligated to do so. Private schools,because they are not covered by state open records laws, can,but are not required, to release the information.
Universities that are reluctant to provide access to crime recordsmay be scared that campus crime facts and records are bad publicity,according to Daniel Carter, vice president for Securityon Campus, an advocacy group for accurate campus crime reporting.
“Schools depend upon their good images to get students, endowmentsand other funding,” he said. “If they have a bad image,this is put at jeopardy.”
Whatever the motivation, our experience is that it is very difficultto obtain some of these records, despite the fact that they arerequired to be open under the law. Some campus officials wereunfamiliar with their legal obligations, others sent us to theuniversity lawyer’s office and others simply told us we couldnot have the records.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of these results is thatschools are rarely if ever penalized for violations of the law.The Department of Education hasfound at least four schools — Miami University in Ohio, MoorheadState University in Minnesota, Virginia Tech and the Universityof Pennsylvania — in violation of the Campus Security Act. Thoseschools only received letters instructing them on how to becomecompliant. No fines were issued, said Jane Glickman, a DOE publicaffairs representative. For those denied access to informationthat could have protected their safety, the damage is alreadydone.
In addition, Miami University of Ohio has come under criticismfor its reluctance to release disciplinary records. But in Miami Studentv. Miami University, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 1997that the school must give the campus student newspaper the outcomesof disciplinary proceedings.
“The judicial affairs administrators do not want the interferencethat public scrutiny would bring,” Carter said. “Theyseem to believe that they know best and that what the rest ofthe community-students, parents, the media, alumni, area businessand local governments-may want could conflict with that.”
Carter added that open disciplinary proceeding outcomes are importantbecause they create a sense of security for the campus community.
“Victims and even the accused are robbed of their rightsin closed hearings with no public oversight,” he said.
We began this project by selecting six local schools, a mix oflarge and small, public and private, and sending a single reporterto each, requesting crime statistics, police or security logs,and the outcomes of certain disciplinary proceedings. Since mostof the relevant laws require public access to the records in question,our reporters identified themselves by name only. We wanted tobe treated as any person walking in off the street would be. Ifpressed, they said that they were from the Student Press Law Center,working on a project on campus crime. The results, described indetail below, were mixed. Statistics were relatively easy to obtain.Disciplinary records, virtually impossible. Even basic policelogs were made available at most schools only because of extensiveeffort and time by our reporters.
Our reporters received crime statistics and some police logs fromeach of the six schools visited. Only one school provided anydisciplinary records, and that information was extremely vague.
The conclusion we ultimately reached after our effort to obtainthese crime records presents a disturbing picture. If a reporterwell-versed in the requirements of state and federal law has asmuch trouble getting access to basic crime information as we did,our guess is that the average student seeking basic crime reportsoften walks away with nothing — out of frustration if not froman outright denial.
What follows is our reporters’ narratives of their efforts toget access to crime records at the six schools we surveyed. Wewould encourage you to make a similar test on your own collegeor university campus, and let us know the results. If you haveproblems getting information you are entitled to, contact theSPLC. The new edition of our booklet, “CoveringCampus Crime,” can help you understand the law. We wantto ensure that every student journalist has a clear picture ofthe extent of campus crime.
The Schools Surveyed:
· George Mason Universityis a public university in Fairfax, Va., with an enrollment of24,010.
· Georgetown Universityis a private university in Washington, D.C., with an enrollmentof about 9,000.
· George Washington Universityis a private university in Washington, D.C., with an enrollmentof 18,000.
· Howard Universityis a private university in Washington, D.C., with an enrollmentof 10,248.
· Marymount Universityis a private university in Arlington, Va., with an enrollmentof 3,800.
· The University of Marylandis a public university in College Park, Md., with an enrollmentof 36,711.
George Mason University
Campus crime statistics
I visited the campus police station at 11 a.m. on June 24. I toldthe receptionist that I needed copies of campus crime statisticsfor 1997, and a copy of the police log for the week of April 26.She asked my name, which I gave to her, and then she asked mewho I was. I began to ask her if it mattered, and she interjected,asking if I was a student or if I “just wanted them [therecords].” I said I just wanted them. She wrote down my requests,and gave me a copy of the statistics for 1995, 1996 and 1997.
The same receptionist said she would have to ask the captain aboutthe log, but he was meeting with someone else, so she placed aphone call to another officer, whose name was Lt. McCall.
The receptionist said McCall wanted to speak with me, so I dialedher number on the courtesy phone in the police department receptionarea, identified myself and told her I was requesting a copy ofthe log. She asked me where I was from, so I asked her if therewere certain criteria the department used to determine who couldhave access to their records.
“Yes, I need to know who you are before I can release anythingto you,” she said.
(Federal law requires that police/security logs be “opento public inspection.” There is no provision that allowsthe logs to be held from certain individuals. In addition, theVirginia open records laws requires records such as these to be”open to inspection and copying by any citizens of the Commonwealth.”Our reporter, who was living in Virginia, met the statutory requirementsto be considered a citizen of the state.)
I told her I was a reporter for the Student Press Law Center.She asked me what I wanted, and I told her again that I wanteda copy of the police log. She asked what was so special aboutthe particular week I was requesting. (As mentioned above, ourreporting team picked at random one week during the spring schoolsemester so our request to each school would be the same.) I toldher that I would not know until I had a chance to review the information.Obviously unhappy with my response, she repeated her question.I again said I would have to see the information to determinethat. She said she would have to speak with the captain, and hewould decide if I could have the records in question.
After I got off the phone with McCall, I sat in the waiting areafor approximately 20 minutes until Capt. Jenkins came out withwhat I would soon discover were copies of the records. He askedme if he could help me. I told him I wanted a copy of the log(this was the fifth time I had stated my request to someone inthe campus police department). He handed me the copies of thelog.
“Now, you understand that we give this to anybody who wantsit,” he said. “It’s public information. But the onlytwo avenues that ever request it are the two campus newspapers.”
It seemed to me that he was trying to reassure me that the departmentwas complying with the law. He proceeded to hand me copies ofthe logs I requested, yet still seemed somewhat hesitant. I thankedhim, and he said that if I had any more questions, I should lethim know.
Outcomes of disciplinary proceedings
On July 1 at 12:05 p.m., I visited the Office of Judicial Affairsat the university in search of copies of disciplinary proceedingoutcomes for the spring semester. I entered the office and thereceptionist asked my name and what I wanted. I explained I wasthere to see the dean of students, Gerard Mulherin, to requestcopies of the outcomes of disciplinary proceedings. She went intoMulherin’s office and spoke with him, and then he came out andasked me what I wanted. I told him. He asked for my name, andasked me to spell it as well, which I did. Next, he asked me ifI just wanted the records “for my own.” Thinking hewas asking me if I wanted the records for “my own” use,I said yes. He then asked me who I “was having difficultywith.” I told him that I had misunderstood him, and I wasnot looking for my own records, but for all records from the springsemester for all students with such files.
“Now you’re talking about confidential information,”he said as he shook his head.
I told him that actually the information was not private underfederal law.
“Just who do you represent?,” he asked me.
I asked him if it mattered, and he said, “Yes, of courseit does.”
I said I was a reporter with the SPLC. He told me to submit myrequest in writing and then he would pass it on to the university’sattorneys. I produced a request letter I had written ahead oftime. He seemed surprised that I had a letter with me, and hestarted reading it. I thanked him again and told him I lookedforward to hearing from him.
(To make your own written request, see the SPLC’sState Open Records Request Letter Generator. It will helpyou produce a letter stating the relevant provisions of your ownstate open records law. You might want to add to such a lettera specific description of the FERPA amendment that said the outcomeof certain disciplinary proceedings can be released without theinstitution having to obtain the permission of or notify the offendingstudent, as described in the introduction above.)
On July 13, I received a letter, dated July 9, from Mulherin informingme that it was “practically impossible” to provide mewith the records, or to determine whether they were availableor an exception to the state open records law applied within thefive day deadline provided by Virginia open records law. He saidthe university was exercising its right under the act to takean additional seven working days to respond to my request.
On July 21, I received a letter postmarked July 20 from Mulherin.The letter denied my request for access to the disciplinary records.It cited an exception under Virginia’s freedom of informationact. The letter said that “‘scholastic records containinginformation concerning identifiable individuals…’ are excludedfrom FOIA.”
George Washington University
Campus crime statistics
At the University Police office on the morning of June 18, I askedan office worker for crime statistics for the 1997 school year,and for the police logs for the week of April 26. She handed mea booklet in which the crime statistics were published.
“What else did you need?” she asked. “The logs,”I said.
She asked a couple of questions: Are you a student? Are you doingthis research for a class? I said no to both questions, and askedher if records were only released to certain people. She saidno.
She asked again who I was, so I told her that I was a reporterwith the Student Press Law Center doing some research on campuscrime. She went to get the police logs, which were several individualincidents, one per sheet of paper in a binder. I asked if I couldget copies, and she said that they do not make copies of them.She let me look through the logs, and I wrote down the incidents.As I was finishing, the director came out of her office and askedif I was doing research for school. I told her no, that I wasa reporter with the SPLC. She was very polite and even gave mean incomplete copy of 1998’s crime statistics. (They were notrequired to be released until Sept. 1.)
Outcomes of disciplinary proceedings
At the administration building on the morning of June 22, a receptionistsaid to go to the Office of the Dean of Students to inquire aboutdisciplinary matters. However, when I got there, a woman toldme I had to go to Fulbright Hall, where the judicial office was.She also asked who I was. I gave her my first name.
It would be rather difficult for someone who was not a GeorgeWashington University student to get into Fulbright Hall, a residencehall that requires a GW student card to enter the building. BecauseI was living on the GW campus for the summer, I had such a card.
In the office, I told a man at the front desk that I was tryingto get copies of the outcomes of disciplinary proceedings fromthe spring semester. He said he was uncertain if I could obtainthose. He took me into the office of the director, Martin Hicks.
Hicks politely asked what I needed. I told him. He said that hewas not allowed to give out those records. I said that federallaw permitted schools to release them.
MiamiStudent v. Miami University). He said that FERPA did notallow him to release the records.
I said that FERPA allowed schools to release, for certain crimes,the name of the violation, the student who committed it if thatstudent was found guilty, and the sanction imposed. He said thatthe District of Columbia was “still waiting” for a lawthat allowed schools to release that information and that he couldnot release it.
In fact, D.C. has no law that prohibits the release of these records.
He asked if I was doing work for school. I told him that I wasa reporter with the SPLC.
Campus crime statistics
On June 22, I visited the Department of Public Safety. When Ifound it a little before noon, I told a man at the front deskthat I needed the crime statistics for 1997, and the police logfor the week of April 26. He gave me a booklet that had the publishedstatistics for 1997.
He asked what else I needed. I told him and then he went to geta Sgt. Busey. Busey came out, and I told him that I needed copiesof the police logs. He looked confused, shook his head and saidsomewhat unconfidently, “I don’t think we let people seethose.”
I told him that, as I understood, under the law, the public couldsee those records.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I said.
Suddenly he seemed to reconsider, and took me through the “employeesonly” door. He told me to sit in a room that had a chalkboardand desks. I waited there and he came back with a dilapidatedledger book. First, he brought out the wrong book, so he had tofind the book with April incidents in it. When he brought thecorrect book, he asked if I was doing a school project. I saidI was doing some research on campus crime for work.
It took him several seconds to find the exact week I was lookingfor. He said I could not photocopy it, but he had no problem ifI wanted to hand copy it, so I did, while he stayed in the room.
Outcomes of disciplinary proceedings
I arrived at the Georgetown University Office of Student Conductin the Leavey Center around 1 p.m. on June 22. When I arrivedat the front desk, a man sitting there said, “You’ll probablyhave to talk to someone else, but is it an easy or hard questionthat you have?”
“Well, that all depends,” I said. So I told him thatI was looking for copies of the outcome of disciplinary proceedingsfrom the spring semester.
He said, “Oh, OK, you’ll have to talk to her,” and pointedto a woman named Tiffany Conway, judicial coordinator.
I said that I wanted the outcome of certain student disciplinaryproceedings, as Conway listened.
“Oh no,” she said, looking somewhat shocked that I wouldeven ask for that information. “We can’t violate the victims’confidentiality.”
I explained that I did not want information about the victims,but as I understood it, FERPA allowed schools to release the nameof any student found guilty, the crime committed, and the sanctionsimposed.
“No,” she said. “In D.C., there is no state lawthat allows us to do that.”
In D.C., there is no law that prohibits the release of informationeither.
Campus crime statistics
Howard University’s security department made access to informationextremely difficult. The building was hard to find, and when Igot there at 11 a.m. on June 24, the officers at the front deskhad no idea what I was talking about when I asked for crime statisticsand police logs.
I had to go upstairs to look for the office of the department’sadministrative assistant. I asked her for the campus crime statistics,saying I was doing some research on campus crime. She returnedwith a half-sheet of paper containing the crime statistics for1996, 1997 and 1998.
I asked her for the police log for the week of April 26. She askedme why I wanted to see the log and I again said I was doing researchon campus crime. She went into the office of Maj. Harvey G. Armstrongto ask him whether I could see the police logs. When she cameback, she told me I would have to speak to Armstrong myself.
I asked Armstrong for the logs, explaining that I was doing research.He said he could not give me access to the logs. I said federallaw mandated that both private and public university police logsbe open to the public. Armstrong said he could not release themand told me to go to the university’s General Counsel office.
On June 28, 1999, at 11 a.m., I went to the General Counsel’soffice and spoke to the receptionist. I told her Armstrong hadreferred me to her office because I wanted to view copies of thecampus police logs, and I gave her a letter citing the federallaw. She left the office-I presume to talk to one of the attorneys-andcame back to tell me to return to the security department andtell Armstrong to call her if he had any questions.
I went back to the security department and told Armstrong theGeneral Counsel’s office said I could have access to the policelogs. He called the General Counsel’s office to confirm my claimand told me the logs would not be ready for me to view for severalhours. I asked if he wanted me to come back later that day andhe said “or tomorrow.” I said I would prefer to comeback today. He said to come back at 2 p.m.
When I returned at 2, Armstrong retrieved the police log-a verybeat-up, green ledger book-and said he knew the log should bepublic, but officers record confidential information, such asnames, in it. (In fact, under federal law there is no prohibitionon the release of names in law enforcement unit records.) He saidhe had covered up the names in it so that I could look at it.I followed Armstrong into the police chief’s office where he pulledout a chair for me and then sat right next to me. He opened thelog and covered the other side of the page with a manila folderso I could not see it. I asked if he could make a copy for me,but he said the copier was broken. I took out a pen and a notebookand copied the incidents in the ledger.
Armstrong asked again what I was looking for, and I again saidI was doing campus crime research. He then asked me for some identification,saying he wanted to make sure I was who I said I was. I said Ihad a driver’s license and he asked to see it. I continued copyingdown incidents and asked Armstrong questions about notations Idid not understand. I asked him if he was planning to create alog that did not contain confidential information so that thepublic could have access to it. He mumbled something about plansto do that. I finished copying and got up to leave. Armstrongapologized for the time it took me to access the information andsaid he hoped that next time I would have an easier time findingthe information.
My experience at the Howard University security department wasdifficult for a working reporter, let alone a concerned studentor parent. It took several days to get access to the police logsand when I did, I felt so intimidated and uncomfortable that Ithought I was going to cry or flee. I wrote as fast as I couldjust so I could get out of there.
Outcomes of disciplinary proceedings
On June 28 at 11:35 a.m., I spoke to the student receptionistwhile waiting for Dean Vincent Johns. I told him I wanted copiesof the outcomes of student disciplinary proceedings for the spring1999 semester. He said I could wait for the dean, but he probablywould not let me have them. I told the receptionist that universitiesare allowed to release the outcomes of student disciplinary proceedingswhen the student involved is found guilty of a violent offense.He said I would have to wait for Johns. He offered me some waterwhile I was waiting. When Johns entered, the receptionist toldhim I wanted copies of the spring disciplinary proceedings. Hesaid no. That was the end of the conversation.
Campus crime statistics
I went to the Campus Safety Office of Marymount University onJuly 9. I asked the receptionist for campus crime statistics for1997. I was greeted with a polite and cheerful, “Sure!”She went across the hall to a closet, unlocked it and asked mehow many copies I wanted. I said one. She asked me if these werefor the library or just for myself. I told her they were justfor me, and she gave me a copy of the brochure.
I then asked for a copy of the police log for the week of April26. She said I would have to talk to her supervisor. I went intothe office and asked Eric Hols, director of campus safety, fora copy of the log.
He said, “What, you mean like if there were any incidentsreported?”
I said, “yes.” He got up from his desk, left the room,and came back a few seconds later with a handful of papers.
“Well, we had nothing on April 26,” he said.
“Nothing for that whole week?,” I said.
“Well, nothing for the month of April,” he said.
Hols said they had only five reported incidents between Januaryand May. I was suprised to hear that an urban campus, even a smallone, only responded to five incidents in a school semester. Heshowed me the reports for the spring and said I was welcome toperuse them. I thanked him, and proceeded to do so. He asked ifI was a student, and I said I was. He asked if I was looking forsomething in particular, and I said no. He also asked if I wasconsidering moving on campus, and I said I was not. I returnedthe records to him, thanked him and left.
Outcomes of disciplinary proceedings
On July 14 at 11 a.m., I attempted to get copies of the disciplinaryoutcomes from the Office of Residence Life. I went to the officeof Carlton Sauls, director of residence life, and introduced myself.I told him I wanted copies of the outcomes of student disciplinaryproceedings from the spring semester. He told me he was goingto refer me to the vice president of student affairs.
“I’ve never had a request like this before,” he said.”To be honest with you, I don’t know exactly what the stipulationsare and I don’t want to give you any false information.”
He was very polite. I went upstairs to the vice president’s officeand learned from her secretary that she was out for the day.
I telephoned Donna Patchett, assistant to the vice president forstudent affairs, on July 16 at about 11:30 a.m. I told her thatSauls had referred me to her.
I gave her my name and said I was calling to ask if I could obtaincopies of the outcomes of student disciplinary proceedings.
“No, you can’t,” she said, raising her voice, “andwould you mind telling me why you want access to this information?”
I told her that I was doing research on campus crime and discipline.
“We don’t release the outcomes of disciplinary proceedings,”she said.
I thanked her.
University of Maryland.
Campus crime statistics
The police department could be a model for other campus policestations to follow. The incident and arrest logs and campus crimestatistics are available on the department’s Web site. The buildingwhere the department is located is well-marked and there is freevisitor parking outside.
When I visited the police station on June 18 at 11 a.m., I askedCpl. Michael Wuenstel for the campus crime logs for the week ofApril 26. He could not find the physical logs, but showed me thelogs on the department’s Web site. I asked for a printout of thelog, but he said he did not want to print it out because it wouldprint out the log for the entire semester. However, the informationis available on the Web at: http://www.umpd.umd.edu/pubinfo/index.htm
I then asked Wuenstel for the campus crime statistics, which helocated for me online. When I asked him whether the statisticscovered the academic year or the calendar year, he called oneof the other officers, Lt. Don Smith, who said they covered thecalendar year. Smith came into the front office to give me a copyof the university’s “Safety and Security” brochure,which contains the campus crime statistics as well as informationabout the university police department.
Both of the officers were very helpful and courteous. They didnot ask my name or my reason for wanting to view the crime logsor statistics.
Outcomes of disciplinary proceedings
On June 18 at 10:30 a.m., I asked Associate Director John Zackerfor copies of disciplinary proceedings for the spring 1999 semester.He asked me who I was and I told him my name. He informed me thatI would have to submit my request for access to the disciplinaryproceedings in writing. I returned later that day and droppedoff a request for disciplinary records citing the 1998 amendmentto FERPA.
I called Zacker several times in the ensuing days and after hedid not return any of my calls, I went to his office on June 24at 2 p.m. to ask him what the status of my request was. He saidhe gave my request to the president’s legal committee to lookover. He added that the FERPA amendment made it legal for universitiesto provide access to disciplinary records, but did not requirethem to do so. I responded that the state open records law requiredthe university to release the records, and Zacker said I wouldhave to submit a separate open records request if I wanted myrequest to be considered under that law as well. I said I wouldand mailed an open records request letter to the office the nextday.
I called Zacker on July 19 to find out the status of my request.He said his office would respond to my request by July 26-thedeadline by which the university was required by law to comply.I called Zacker on July 28, and he said he was about to mail thedisciplinary information to me. I asked if I could pick it upinstead, and he said I could come in at any time.
On July 29, I went to the office and met with Zacker. He gaveme a letter in response to my request. It included the names oftwo students who had been found guilty of a violent offense, thevague description of the offenses they committed (both were describedonly as “intentionally causing physical harm or apprehensionof harm”) and the university’s sanctions against them. Hesaid that it took a long time for the university to furnish mewith the records because the FERPA definition of “‘crimesof violence” and “nonforcible sex offenses’ have yetto be defined by the U.S. Department of Education in pending FERPAregulations.” Zacker said he had to consult with the attorneygeneral of Maryland to determine which records he could release.
Although it took me more than a month to get the disciplinaryrecords I requested from the University of Maryland’s Office ofJudicial Programs, Maryland was the only college we surveyed thatsupplied this information. It was somewhat surprising that ata university of over 36,000 students, only two students were foundguilty of crimes of violence in disciplinary proceedings for anentire school semester. In addition, the information releasedgave little indication what the actual criminal behavior was;it could range from making a physical threat to sexually assaultingsomeone. Nor did it include dates or locations for the incidentsor the date and duration of the punishment.
The only time I was asked what I would use the information forwas after Zacker gave it to me. (He said he had to notify thestudents whose names he had released and wanted to be able totell them what their information would be used for.) I explainedto him that I was an intern at the Student Press Law Center andwas conducting an access test.