IOWA — Colleges and universities not willing to loosen their holdon campus crime statistics may be forced to loosen their purse stringsto pay steep fines if a ruling by the Department of Education is allowedto stand.
Mount St. Clare College is currently appealing a $25,000 fine leviedby the DOE in June after the department found the school in violation ofthe Clery Act, which requires schools to disclose campus crime statisticsto students and faculty.
The fine, the first ever imposed for such a violation, came after aMarch DOE report stated that Mount St. Clare failed to include 15 incidents-includinginstances of aggravated assault and burglary, as well as sexual assaultsand weapons offenses-in its crime reports between 1993 and 1998.
The university is challenging the report’s finding, claiming that theunreported incidents resulted from merely a difference in interpretationof the Clery Act, but Daniel Carter, vice president of the campus crimewatchdog group Security on Campus, said he hopes the fine will finallyput some teeth into enforcement of the act.
“If Mount St. Clare’s appeal is rejected, as we hope it will be, otherschools will be put on notice that they have to comply, and if they don’tthere will actually be serious consequences, not just a slap on the wrist,”Carter said. “We are also hoping that this is a sign that the DOE willhenceforth take enforcement of this law seriously.”
A $15,000 portion of the fine was imposed for the college’s failureto disclose the crime statistics, while the school was ordered to pay $5,000for not providing campus security reports to prospective students and another$5,000 for failing to provide a complete statement of campus security policies.
Carter said the DOE has always had the option to impose such fines,but a 1998 amendment to the act made it clear that Congress expects schoolsthat break the law to be forced to pay.
“The Mount St. Clare program review was the first such investigationinitiated after Congress made it very clear they intended for the DOE tofine violators, and I think this was one very significant factor in thedecision to issue the fine,” Carter said.
However, the school maintains its position that any unreported incidentswere not intentionally omitted and that the fine is being unfairly imposedbecause other schools in similar situations were given only a reprimand.
Effie Hall, director of college relations at Mount St. Clare, said theschool believes the law’s crime reporting regulations are unclear.
“Mount St. Clare thinks and feels that it is a safe campus,” Hall said.”We had some incidents that they did not think needed to be reported, andwe have challenged how some of those incidents have been classified.”
Hall said the DOE has until September 12 to respond to a brief filedby the school in July, and a hearing may be scheduled after that.
DOE officials did not return calls made to their offices by the Report.
The DOE’s letter to Mount St. Clare College is available on the Securityon Campus Web site at: http://www.campussafety.org/publicpolicy/cleryact/mscaaad01.html.