Human Resources, Safety, Security

Liberty University Fined Record $14M over Campus Safety Law Violations

The U.S. Department of Education is imposing a $14 million fine under a settlement agreement with Liberty University for violations of the Clery Act, including issues regarding the school’s published crime statistics and treatment of sexual assault survivors.

This is the largest fine ever imposed for violating the federal law, officially named the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. Passed by Congress in 1990, the law requires post-secondary schools participating in federal financial aid programs to collect and provide important information about public safety issues to current students, parents, employees, prospective students, and employees. The law was named in memory of a student who was murdered in her dorm room.

As a part of the settlement, Liberty—a Christian university in Lynchburg, Va.—also agreed to spend $2 million over the next two years for on-campus safety improvements and compliance enhancements. Progress on that work will be audited by an outside accounting firm.

The Department of Education will also conduct its post-review monitoring of Liberty through April 2026 to ensure that the school executes on promised improvements. Any further lapses in Clery Act compliance could jeopardize the terms of the university’s participation in the federal student aid programs or result in other administrative sanctions against the institution.

Violation Details

In February 2022, the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) notified Liberty that it would conduct a program review to evaluate Liberty’s Clery Act compliance. The announcement followed the receipt of several complaints that alleged the university had engaged in a pattern of conduct that reflected serious violations of the Clery Act.

“Through the Clery Act, schools are obligated to take action that creates safe and secure campus communities, investigate complaints, and responsibly disclose information about crimes and other safety concerns. We will continue to hold schools accountable if they fail to do so,” said FSA COO Richard Cordray.

Following its investigation of Liberty, FSA found 11 main violations:

1. Lack of administrative capability: Liberty substantially failed to develop and implement an adequate Clery Act compliance program between 2016-23, the years FSA reviewed, and did not meet its regulatory responsibilities in numerous and serious ways. Specifically, Liberty failed to 1) provide accurate and complete informational disclosures; 2) comply with a number of sexual violence prevention and response requirements; 3) issue timely warnings to advise the campus community about criminal activity that may have posed a significant or ongoing threat; 4) issue emergency notifications to advise the campus community about emergencies or dangerous situations that may have posed a threat to health or safety.

2. Inaccurate and incomplete informational disclosures: In its Annual Security Report (ASR), Liberty failed to develop and implement required statements about campus safety and crime prevention policy, procedure, practice, and programs and include accurate and complete informational disclosures in its annual security reports.

3. Failure to comply with Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) requirements: VAWA amended the Clery Act to expand and enhance the sexual violence prevention and response requirements that apply to all schools that participate in the federal student aid programs. Liberty failed to comply with several of these requirements, such as providing victims of sexual violence with appropriate notice of their rights and options and deficiencies in the investigatory and adjudicative process.

4. Failure to identify and notify campus security authorities and to establish an adequate system for collecting crime statistics from all required sources: Liberty failed to effectively collect required statistics for incidents of crimes reported to campus security authorities, failed to include them in its campus crime statistics, and failed to identify and notify campus security authorities of their obligations.

5. Failure to properly classify and disclose crime statistics: Liberty failed to compile and publish accurate and complete crime statistics for calendar years 2016-21. FSA identified numerous instances where Liberty failed to include reported crimes in the annual security reports—including VAWA offenses—as well as numerous instances in which Liberty misidentified crimes, did not make required disclosures, and failed to properly classify crimes.

6. Failure to issue emergency notifications in accordance with federal regulations: Liberty knowingly and repeatedly failed to issue the required emergency notifications to advise the campus community about emergencies and other dangerous conditions that posed a threat to the community’s health or safety.

7. Failure to issue timely warnings in accordance with federal regulations: The Clery Act and Department of Education regulations require schools to issue timely warnings to the entire campus community to inform students and employees about Clery reportable crimes that pose an ongoing threat to students and employees. These warnings must be issued whenever such crimes are reported to a campus security authority, but Liberty failed to do so.

8. Failure to maintain an accurate and complete daily crime log: Schools with a police or campus security department must maintain a written, easily understood daily crime log that lists all crimes that occurred 1) on campus, including residence halls; 2) in non-campus buildings or on non-campus property; 3) on public property within the campus or immediately adjacent to and accessible from the campus; or 4) within the boundaries of the campus police or security department’s patrol zone. This reporting requirement applies to all types of crimes. Liberty failed to maintain accurate and complete daily crime logs throughout the review period.

9. Failure to define Clery Act geography in accordance with federal regulations: Liberty did not properly apply the geographical definitions of the Clery Act, which involves identifying all buildings and properties within its “Clery Geography.” Thus, Liberty did not properly compile and report accurate crime statistics to the campus community and the Department of Education. 

10. Failure to comply with Title IV record retention: Liberty failed to retain the required records necessary to establish its compliance with the Clery Act. The failure to retain these compromised the Department of Education’s ability to conduct required oversight and monitoring.  

11. Failure to publish and distribute Annual Security Reports in accordance with federal regulations. Schools must prepare a comprehensive ASR that contains, at a minimum, all statistics and policy disclosures identified in Department of Education regulations. Schools must actively distribute the ASR to enrolled students and current employees through appropriate publications and mailings. Additionally, schools must provide a conspicuous notice to prospective students and employees, including a statement that the ASR is available, its contents, and the URL where it is posted online. In four years, from 2018 through 2021, Liberty failed to distribute the revised version of the institution’s ASR. 

The settlement terms require Liberty to bring its programs and operations into full compliance with the Clery Act and do so in a manner that will provide reasonable assurance that these violations will not recur.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *