University of Montana assessed $1M Clery Act fine
- The Department of Education fined the University of Montana nearly $1 million for its admitted failure to accurately report at least seven sexual offenses and other crime, the second-highest penalty ever imposed under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. A University of Montana spokeswoman said the fine is excessive and the institution will appeal, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
- The fine is second only to the $2.4 million fine assessed to Penn State University for its handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case. The fine for a single Clery Act violation typically is about $56,000, though institutions often settle for substantially less. The spokeswoman said it has since made "marked" progress in its reporting process.
- The Trump administration does not appear to be decreasing enforcement of the act, the Chronicle noted, and one campus security expert said he expects recent changes in the policy will result in "faster and larger" actions and fines.
Mistakes in Clery Act reporting procedures can cost a college thousands of dollars in fines and "have a negative effect on its culture and recruiting," two attorneys specializing in higher education compliance issues wrote last year in the Chronicle.
The pair lists several actions colleges should take to avoid such exposure, including collecting and reporting crime properly and accurately establishing and publicizing their policies. They note that pending charges against Baylor University may result in a fine that breaks the record set by Penn State's, the majority of which concerned reporting failures, not the crime.
While compliance is critical, a 2014 analysis by Inside Higher Ed found that fines imposed on colleges on average were reduced by more than 25% through appeals or settlements. It found that 17 of the 21 fines imposed under the act between 2000 and 2014 were lowered, and typically substantially.
Higher education is struggling with a combination of increasing publicity about sexual misconduct on campus and plans by the Trump administration to limit which assault charges are pursued and how they are handled. The situation is making institutions uncertain about the direction they should take.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that 22 of the most prominent universities in the country made 59 sexual harassment settlements worth $10.5 million during 2016 and 2017, most of them involving victims claiming institutions mishandled their cases or didn't adequately punish those charged.
For colleges and universities seeking up-to-date compliance information, the Clery Center offers detailed guidance as well as campus safety training and support. Additionally, several resources are available to help colleges implement and improve campus safety policies, including the Department of Education's Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting and the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative's toolkit.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education A $1-Million Fine for Violating the Clery Act? Expensive, but Not Unprecedented