• April 16, 2014

Yale U. Is Fined $165,000 Under Crime-Reporting Law

In one of the most severe penalties ever assessed to a university for violations of a federal campus-crime law, the U.S. Department of Education has fined Yale University $165,000 for failing to disclose four forcible sex offenses that occurred on its campus more than a decade ago.

In a letter sent to Yale's president, Richard C. Levin, on April 19, the department notified the university that it planned to impose the fines for a failure to comply with the Clery Act, which governs campus-crime reporting. The violations first came to light several years ago, when the department concluded an investigation dating to 2004.

According to the letter, Yale omitted from its annual campus-crime statistics two forcible sex offenses in 2001 and another two in 2002. Each violation cost the university $27,500, plus $55,000 for omitting required policy statements from annual security reports and for excluding its hospital from its definition of "campus."

The university has asked the department to reconsider and lower the fine. Yale officials say the university has long since dealt with the reporting problems underlying the Clery Act violations.

Yale's handling of sexual misconduct on its campus has been the subject of considerable federal scrutiny in recent years. In addition to the Department of Education's attention to the reporting of sex-related crimes, it has separately examined the university's compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Last summer, at the conclusion of an investigation into a sex-discrimination complaint, the department's Office for Civil Rights—the agency charged with enforcing Title IX—praised Yale for creating new programs and policies aimed at creating a safer, more-supportive environment for students. (Ultimately, the agency did not find Yale to be out of compliance with Title IX.)

The fine against Yale for Clery Act violations is the latest incident in a flurry of recent regulatory activity in which federal officials have singled out universities for their handling or reporting of sexual violence on their campuses.

Just last week, the University of Montana at Missoula reached a settlement with the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice in an investigation of the university's sexual-misconduct policies. And last month, the Education Department imposed a fine of $82,500 against the University of Texas at Arlington for misclassifying two crimes, one of them a forcible sexual offense; the university is appealing that penalty.

Federal education officials, in particular, are sending a clear message that they take violence directed against women with "the highest level of seriousness," said Peter F. Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University. "No one is spared the wrath of the department for failure to comply with federal guidelines."

Concern for Campus Safety

Yale isn't the first institution to be reprimanded for running afoul of the Clery Act. At least a dozen colleges have been fined over the past decade for violations of the law on campus-crime reporting. Many of those penalties—include some of the more-recent ones—have been against universities that failed to report forcible sex offenses that occurred on their campuses.

Among them are Tarleton State University, which in 2009 was fined $137,500 for failing to report three forcible sex offenses; the university appealed the decision and ultimately settled with the department for $123,500. And Washington State University was fined $82,500 for misreporting two sex-related crimes—a penalty that was later reduced to $15,000. To date, Eastern Michigan University has paid the largest fine, of $350,000, in 2008, for failing to alert the campus after a student was murdered.

Mr. Lake said he was struck by "the relative magnitude" of the fine against Yale. Colleges, he said, should brace for more. "The number of lashes the captain gives you is not insignificant," he said. "The crew is watching."

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