Report: Dept. of Ed. Didn’t Inform 17 Colleges of Clery Investigations

Each college allegedly under investigation for potential Clery Act violations claims they were not informed by the Education Department of the investigation.

Report: Dept. of Ed. Didn’t Inform 17 Colleges of Clery Investigations

A senior official with the Education Department has defended the office's handling of the cases.

Department of Education officials did not inform college officials that their institutions were under investigation for potential Clery Act violations after telling 18 college students who submitted Clery complaints the investigations would occur, reports BuzzFeed.

The report has left some college officials unsure if they were ever under investigation and some students worried that the department isn’t taking their Clery complaints seriously.

The center of the controversy is a claim by a senior Education Department official that the department “thoroughly reviewed” Clery complaints against the 17 institutions. BuzzFeed reached out to officials from all of the schools and found they were not aware of the investigations.

The schools involved are listed below.

  • The University of Utah
  • Stanford University
  • Old Dominion University
  • Longwood University
  • The University of Richmond
  • Skidmore College
  • Southern Arkansas University
  • Texas A&M International University
  • The University of Illinois at Chicago
  • The University of Oklahoma
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Bellevue College
  • Clark University
  • The College of St. Scholastica
  • Dakota County Technical College
  • The University of Hartford
  • Kaplan College Fresno

According to an internal email obtained by BuzzFeed through a Freedom of Information Act request, some department staff members knew that some schools under review had not been informed.

“Many of the [colleges] at issue likely had no idea that our Division was even looking at them,” a department official wrote in December, explaining the letters to students were sent to try and clear out a backlog of complaints.

A senior official defended the department’s handling of the 18 cases, saying the department “takes extraordinary measures to protect the anonymity of the complainant,” so schools will not always know there has been a complaint filed against them, BuzzFeed reports.

One of the department’s letters was sent to Harley Lennon, one of two University of Utah graduates who complained about the school’s handling of a violent incident on the Salt Lake City campus.

Lennon submitted a complaint after another student was held at gunpoint and raped in the backseat of her car by a man in a Halloween mask on October 31, 2016. The university waited two and a half hours to send an emergency text alert and it did not mention a gun.

“I’m honestly speechless,” Lennon said. “The U.S. Department of Education misled us to believe that our complaint was being addressed and taken seriously when we received that letter.”

The other complainant, Jenny Larsen, also says the school brushed off her complaint regarding the Halloween attack.

“The school also did not update their crime log to include this incident, making it feel to us that they were either acting irresponsibly or trying to hide the incident,” Larsen says.

Despite the Education Department’s letters to Lennon and Larsen stating their complaints would be investigated, University of Utah officials say they’ve had no contact with the department regarding the two complaints. In August of 2017, shortly after the letters were sent to Lennon and Larsen, the school reached out to the department for more information after learning about the letters through local media. A spokesman for the school told BuzzFeed that the university has yet to hear back.

“It’s a slap in the face and further demonstrates our government’s lack of concern and commitment to address campus sexual assault,” Lennon said.

Data from 2015 shows that from the 2009 fiscal year to the 2014 fiscal year, sexual violence complaints at colleges increased by more than 1,000 percent.

The amount of time it takes for an investigation to be completed also increased from an average of 379 days to 1,469 days, suggesting the department is overworked and lacks necessary resources to conduct a timely investigation.

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