Education dept. asked to investigate Texas schools for Clery Act violations

TEXAS — Investigations are possible at five Texas universities after a local newspaper reported problems with how the schools collect and release campus crime statistics under the federal Clery Act.

Daniel Carter, vice president of campus safety watchdog group Security on Campus, sent a written request to the U.S. Department of Education on Dec. 1, asking them to review the practices of University of Texas at Arlington, Southern Methodist University, North Lake Community College, Texas Woman’s University and Baylor University.

The Clery Act is a federal law requiring colleges and universities to collect and distribute campus crime statistics and maintain open campus-crime logs. Violators can lose federal funding and face a fine of up to $27,500 per violation.

On Dec. 1, the Fort Worth Weekly published an article written by Southern Methodist University and University of North Texas journalism students exposing flaws in the Texas universities’ crime reporting.

The reporters’ investigations found schools failed to report date rapes, mislabeled rapes, omitted rapes from statistics, destroyed old crime logs, limited access to current crime logs, and provided different statistics to the DOE and parents and students.

Jim Caswell, Vice President for Student Affairs at Southern Methodist University, said he was concerned about the accuracy of the reporting. In one instance, the story said a woman called campus police after being raped at her off-campus apartment, but was told police could not investigate because it happened off campus.

“We were surprised at this particular story,” Caswell said of the account. “[The officer] cannot find that on his [daily activity] log that spring that the woman called in. Here we are, she said ‘yes I did,’ and we can’t find it on our log.”

Caswell said he found it “disturbing” that student reporters made the accusations without knowing all the facts.

Carter asked the DOE to bring the schools into compliance with the Clery Act and to consider fining the schools. In his letter, Carter recommended the DOE impose the maximum fine. “Otherwise,” he said, “schools will continue to not truly take the law seriously.”

Southern Methodist would welcome an investigation into their compliance, Caswell said. “We would certainly look forward to it because we do our very best to comply with the Clery Act.”

Caswell said the school will increase staff involved in executing the Clery Act on the Southern Methodist campus.

“I don’t want to be defensive and not say we shouldn’t be diligent,” he said. “When there is a rape, we make sure people on the campus know about it.”

Carter attributes an increase in high-profile investigations of college’s crime reporting to increased awareness of the law.

“It’s not like [schools] started not complying, it’s just these have come to light,” he said. “That may be due in part to more awareness of the act and more people raising questions about it.”