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Penn State smacked with record fine for Clery Act violations

| Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, 2:27 p.m.
Jerry Sandusky leaves the Centre County Courthouse after his sentencing in his child sex abuse case in Bellefonte in this file photo taken Oct. 9, 2012.
Jerry Sandusky leaves the Centre County Courthouse after his sentencing in his child sex abuse case in Bellefonte in this file photo taken Oct. 9, 2012.

The U.S. Department of Education levied a record $2.4 million fine against Penn State University for violations of the Clery Act related to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Penn State's penalty “covers 11 serious findings of Clery Act noncompliance related to the university's handling of Sandusky's crimes and the university's longstanding failure to comply with federal requirements on campus safety and substance abuse,” according to a news release.

Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of 45 counts of sexually abusing young boys over multiple years, including several incidents on campus.

The agency says Penn State largely ignored many of its duties under the Clery Act. The majority of the fine — $2,167,500 — comes from the university's failure to properly disclose crime statistics from 2008-11.

“For colleges and universities to be safe spaces for learning and self-development, institutions must ensure student safety — a part of which is being transparent about incidents on their campuses. Disclosing this information is the law,” U.S. Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell said. “When we determine that an institution is not upholding this obligation, then there must be consequences.”

Penn State posted a statement to its website saying, “While regrettably we cannot change the past, today the university has been recognized for significantly strengthening our programs since 2011.”

The statement said, “We have just received the report today and are in the process of conducting a thorough review so that we may better understand its findings. We will comment further when our thorough evaluation of the department's 239-page report has been completed.”

Under the Clery Act, colleges and universities must report to the public each year the number of criminal offenses on campus and report that information to the Department of Education, which also provides it to the public. In addition, in certain cases, the institution must issue a timely warning if a reported crime represents a threat to the campus community.

The previous highest fine was $357,500 assessed against Eastern Michigan University in 2007 for failing to alert the campus to the rape and murder of a student in her on-campus residence. Under a settlement, Eastern Michigan paid a fine of $350,000. The incident also led to the removal of three top university officials, including the university president.

The DOE launched an investigation into Penn State shortly after Sandusky was indicted in 2011. The investigation covered the years 1998 to 2011 because the abuse allegations covered that 14-year span, according to the release.

The agency found 10 violations in addition to Sandusky's crimes:

• Substantial failures to comply with the Clery Act, including insufficient training, support and resources to ensure compliance;

• Inadequate annual security report statements;

• Failure to issue timely warnings;

• Failure to properly classify reported incidents and disclose crime statistics;

• Failure to establish an adequate system for collecting crime statistics;

• Failure to maintain an accurate and complete daily crime log;

• Reporting discrepancies in crime statistics published in the annual security report and those reported to the department's campus crime statistics database;

• Failure to publish and distribute an annual security report;

• Failure to notify prospective students and employees of the availability of the annual security report; and

• Failure to comply with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.

S. Daniel Carter is a nationally known campus safety consultant who has worked on Clery Act issues since the law's inception and testified before Congress. He said Thursday's findings relating to Sandusky represented just a fraction of the record fine.

“The actual message is that there were extensive gaps in Clery compliance at Penn State for a very long time, and the Sandusky matter brought it to light,” said Carter, noting that the university can pay the fine, negotiate a settlement or file an appeal. “The story is not done yet.”

According to the DOE, Penn State responded to the findings but, “after a careful analysis of the university's response, the department sustained all findings.”

Penn State's statement emphasized the steps the university has taken to comply with the Clery Act since the Sandusky crimes.

“Today, Penn State has robust Clery training and collection processes in place,” the statement said. “We have many initiatives, including 18 focused on fighting sexual assault and misconduct, with the creation of new positions, mandatory employee training, a universal hot line and many others. Part of our process includes regular evaluation of our efforts, the analysis of best practice and incorporation of learnings into our operations.

“The university recognizes that Clery Act compliance cannot be an end unto itself, but is rather part of a broader culture of compliance. We will continue our numerous and vigorous efforts to create a culture of reporting, safety and accountability, and have integrated compliance at every level.”

Donald Gilliland is a Tribune-Review assistant metro editor. He can be reached at 412-380-5609 or Staff writer Debra Erdley contributed.

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