Univ. of St. Thomas Fined for Underreporting Crime, Violating Clery Act
An investigation was launched after complaints that the school violated the Clery Act by not providing sexual assault prevention and response procedures.
The University of Saint Thomas, Houston, is facing $172,000 in federal fines after an investigation found the school had underreported crimes on campus and violated the Clery Act.
The investigation, led by the U.S. Department of Education, also found the university violated the Clery Act by not including key information in its annual security report, such as details of safety policies.
The Texas school is just one of 10 universities to be fined this year for Clery Act violations, reports the Houston Chronicle. It is also the first school in Texas to be fined since 2015.
“UST students and employees were denied important safety information about how to prevent crime; where to report incidents; their rights after an alleged sex offense has occurred; and information about the school’s missing student notification procedures,” says a letter from the Education Department written to President Richard Ludwick on September 27. “Students and employees cannot benefit from policies and procedures that have not been provided to them.”
What Were the Violations?
The letter was written by Susan Crim, director of the federal administrative actions and appeals service group of the Education Department’s federal student aid and enforcement unit. The letter describes the school’s violations as “very serious and numerous”, according to Chron.com.
The investigation by the Education Department began after receiving complaints that the school violated the Clery Act by not providing sexual assault prevention and response procedures and by not properly disclosing reported crimes.
During the investigation, federal officials reviewed incident reports, arrest records and student and employee discipline documents from 2008 to 2015.
Almost $100,000 of the federal fines against the school stem from the incorrect reporting of crimes from 2012 and 2013. Some of the improperly reported crimes include a forcible sexual offense, aggravated assault, robbery and motor vehicle theft.
Additional fines come because the school did not include required details on safety policies in its 2012, 2014 and 2015 annual security reports.
In 2015, the annual security report did not outline policies regarding disciplinary actions for alleged dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
“These were all, basically, sloppy errors,” says S. Daniel Carter, a campus safety consultant. “It does deny students and others an accurate picture of campus safety, but not in the same way as if you were thinking they were completely suppressing the data.”
Reaction from the University President
On Monday, Ludwick said administrators plan to evaluate the allegations “seriously”. They will assess if the school will appeal the findings through a hearing or written response, which must occur by October 20.
Ludwick, who became president of the university over the summer, also emphasized that the university is “exceedingly compliant”. He says the school has added resources to the police department, including a new police chief, and has also consulted with independent safety experts.
However, Ludwick was not pleased with the fine, stating it was too high and shows that federal regulators continue to hold more and more responsibility for regulating higher education.
“I think a fine is one way that you gain people’s compliance, but when they’re already seeking to comply, it has a deleterious effect. What we want to do always is to make sure that our students, faculty, staff, other employees and visitors to campus are safe,” says Ludwick.
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