Education Dept. threatens to fine N.J. university for Clery Act violations

NEWJERSEY —- The U.S. Department of Education has threatened tofine William Paterson University $55,000 for violating the Clery Act, a federallaw that requires universities to disclose campus crime statistics to thepublic.The DOE wrote a letter to university President Arnold Speert Oct.14 stating that the school committed two Clery Act violations by prohibitingpublic access to the school’s campus crime log and failing to record a theftcomplaint in the campus crime log. The Clery Act was named in memory ofJeanne Clery, a student who was raped and murdered at Pennsylvania’s LehighUniversity in 1986. Schools that violate the federal law face $27,500 for eachviolation or the possibility of losing eligibility to participate in federalstudent aid programs.William Paterson University, a public school inWayne, can avoid the fines if it takes remedial action to correct both ofthe alleged violations by Nov. 12, the DOE’s letter said. Theuniversity did not return phone calls requesting comment about the allegations. The letter came after federal officials acted on a complaint that campuspolice failed to respond to a report of student theft two years ago. DavidRothman filed the report after he learned that a campus fraternity had allegedlyraised funds for a scholarship established in memory of his deceased son JeffreyRothman, but then withheld the funds. Jeffrey Rothman, a student at the school,died in 2001. Rothman’s complaint was never entered into the campuscrime log or acted upon by campus police, according to the letter.”The[campus crime] log must record any crime that was reported to the campus policeor campus security department that occurred on campus … or within the patroljurisdiction of the campus police.” wrote Robert J. McKiernan, area casedirector for the DOE. The fraternity Rothman complained about was located justoff campus. “It is our determination that William Paterson Universityviolated the regulations by not recording in the crime log the alleged larcenyreported by Mr. Rothman,” McKiernan wrote. The DOE’s letter is thelatest in an effort to show schools that they cannot restrict media access tocampus crime statistics or withhold reported crimes from their campus crimelogs. “We are very pleased that the DOE has made it clear to Dr. Speertthat failing to respond to a reported crime is not grounds for excluding it fromtheir crime log and that the log must be made public,” said S. Daniel Carter,senior vice president of Security on Campus Inc., a nonprofit campus safetywatchdog group. The DOE’s letter also stated that it also receivedallegations that the university denied access to campus crime logs to theschool’s independent and school-sponsored student newspapers, the Beaconand the Pioneer Times.The student newspapers originally requestedaccess to the crime log — along with a William Paterson Universityjournalism professor — to check if the information would beaccessible.”We were talking in one of my journalism classes and werewondering why other universities publish their crime log but William Pattersondoesn’t,” said Larry Clow, editor in chief of the Beacon. “I called MarkShaeffer, the records custodian for the university, and he told me the crime logwas confidential…I did some digging and found out that’s not true.”Clow said the university has still not released the crime log nor givenany explanation for withholding the records. He said he will give them moretime before deciding whether to consider legal action against the school.