Dive Brief:

  • The University of California, Berkeley, will pay a nearly $2.4 million fine and be monitored for two years for violating the Clery Act, the federal law requiring colleges to share campus crime statistics.

  • UC Berkeley misclassified 1,125 incidents, most of which concerned liquor, drug and weapons violations, the U.S. Department of Education concluded after a six-year investigation. The institution misreported them as only campus policy violations, rather than those of the law, university officials wrote in a public statement.

  • The hefty fine follows a historic $4.5 million Clery penalty against Michigan State University last year, which some experts viewed as the department increasing its oversight of the law.

Dive Insight:

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, eponymously named for a female student who was raped and murdered in her dormitory in 1986, mandates colleges that receive federal funding report certain crimes on or near campus to the Education Department. They must also share these stats publicly and send out a timely warning to campus if they’re aware a crime has taken place.

The Education Department’s Clery probes can span years, as was the case with UC Berkeley. The agency reviewed five years’ worth of university documents, those from 2009 to 2016, amounting to more than 32,000 records, officials said.

The department also found problems with the university’s regular public crime log and said it did not properly issue its Annual Security and Fire Safety Report.

“Ensuring perfect compliance in one of the busiest campus law enforcement agencies in the country is a challenge,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and Vice Chancellor for Administration Marc Fisher wrote in their message. The officials noted several steps the institution has been taking to improve Clery compliance: hiring additional staff members, including a new campus Clery coordinator, and upgrading its alert system. 

UC Berkeley’s Clery fine is about on par with the one Pennsylvania State University faced in 2016, which stemmed from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. It was the biggest fine ever levied under the Clery Act until Michigan State’s $4.5 million penalty last year over how it handled complaints of sexual abuse by a former sports doctor, Larry Nassar. Experts said at the time that the agreement between Michigan State and the department was novel, and that it signaled the agency’s intent to beef up Clery enforcement.

“The Berkeley settlement continues the U.S. Department of Education’s recent approach of going beyond merely punitive measures and working with institutions to bolster Clery Act compliance and safer campuses,” S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, wrote in an email. His company consults with colleges on security matters such as Clery and Title IX, the federal law barring sex discrimination.

Clery settlements with the department in prior years have merely led to a fine, he noted. Now institutions must also make policy changes, as was the case with UC Berkeley and Michigan State. Similarly, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will be watched by the department for the next three years and pay $1.5 million for Clery Act violations announced in June

Carter wrote that he expects fines in the multimillion-dollar range to continue, reflecting “a significant increase over the first twenty years of fines imposed for Clery Act violations.”

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