Amendments to Clery Act require universities to immediately warn campus of emergencies

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush signed a higher educationlaw Thursday making several amendments to the Clery Act that will requireuniversities to “immediately notify” students, faculty and staff aboutemergencies on campus.

Advocacy groups including Security on Campus escalated their push for CleryAct reforms after 32 students and employees were killed at Virginia Tech inApril 2007.

Pennsylvania-based Security on Campus was founded in 1987 by Jeanne Clery’sparents after her rape and murder in her residence hall. The organization helpedsecure the passage of the Jeanne Clery Act in 1990, which requires universitiesto open campus crime information, supplementing the disclosure requirements thatalready exist under state laws.

Thursday’s changes make colleges immediately alert the campus community ofa “significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat tothe health or safety of students or staff occurring on campus.”

The amendments also require universities to test their emergency responseand evacuation procedures once a year. The Education Department will be requiredto report annually to Congress on compliance with the Clery Act.

For student reporters covering campus crime, the most significant changebroadens the requirement for colleges to report hate crime statistics.Previously under the Clery Act, colleges were required to report only a list ofspecified serious crimes, but hate crimes often include less serious actionslike theft, assault, intimidation and vandalism, said S. Daniel Carter, seniorvice president of Security on Campus. Under the new provisions, these crimeswill be reported, too.

Carter said these amendments give the students and faculty the ability toprotect themselves with information, which he calls the “hallmark of the CleryAct.”

Another provision will protect “whistleblowers” from retaliation.University employees or crime victims will have better protection to reportviolations of the Clery Act.

With the new hate crime reporting requirements and the whistleblowerprovisions, student reporters should find a greater flow of information. Morecrime statistics will be available and sources will have more protection to beforthcoming, Carter said.

The Education Department must now develop and issue regulations to detailhow institutions can comply with the changes, and Carter said that should happensome time next year.