Eastern Michigan U. violated Clery Act, Department of Education says

MICHIGAN — Administrators at Eastern Michigan University failed to meet federal safety standards after the body of 22-year-old Laura Dickinson was discovered in December 2006, the U.S. Department of Education found this week.

The department cited the university for seven violations of the federal Jeanne Clery Act, including lack of administrative capability, lack of adequate policy statements and failure to provide timely warnings, according to the department’s initial 18-page report released Tuesday.

The Clery Act, passed in 1990, requires all public and private colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to release information about campus crime and safety. It was named after Jeanne Clery, who was beaten, raped and murdered in her dormitory room at Lehigh University in April 1986.

“Not only did EMU fail to disclose information that would enable the campus community to make informed decisions and take necessary precautions to protect themselves, but it issued misleading statements from the outset, providing false reassurance that foul play was not suspected, and that it had no knowledge of an ongoing criminal/homicide investigation prior to the arrest of the suspect,” the report said.

The report comes nearly seven months after a university custodian found Dickinson dead in her Hill Hall room Dec. 15, 2006. Area newspapers reported that she was naked from the waist down, a pillow covered her head and traces of semen were found on her leg.

The department’s report states that police had identified a suspect less than two weeks later.

The school issued a release Dec. 16 announcing that she had passed away unexpectedly, but it said there was “no reason to suspect foul play,” according to the timeline posted on the university Web site. It issued subsequent releases Dec. 18 and Jan. 12 to update students. Neither release gave a cause of death or mentioned a homicide investigation.

“EMU’s failure to issue a ‘timely warning’ concerning the death of this student is exacerbated by its issuance of contradictory published statements, which publicly claimed that a crime had not occurred,” the report said.

Ten weeks after Dickinson’s body was found, police arrested Orange Taylor III, another EMU student, on charges of homicide, two counts of sexual criminal conduct, larceny and home invasion in connection with Dickinson’s death.

Her family and EMU students and parents were outraged to learn that Dickinson’s death was a homicide, and many accused school officials of staging a cover-up.

The university has one month to respond to the initial filing before the department issues its final report.

With an enrollment of about 23,000, the public university could be fined up to $27,500 for each violation of the act or lose some or all of its more than $108 million in annual federal student aid.

Since the inception of the act in 1990, the department has conducted hundreds of reviews, but only three schools have been fined, said Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus Inc., a Clery Act watchdog organization.

This investigation is the “fastest, most-quickly completed” review the department has conducted, largely because of “how serious it is,” he added.

Because the department’s report is an initial filing, it is not a public record, according to the U.S. Department of Education. However, administrators at the university elected to make the document immediately available to the public.

“By making this report immediately available, we are continuing our commitment to total transparency,” EMU Regent James Stapleton said in a statement.