Record-Breaking $14 Million Fine Imposed for Noncompliance with the Clery Act

Record-Breaking $14 Million Fine Imposed for Noncompliance with the Clery Act

As part of a settlement agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Education (“the Department”) on March 5, 2024, Liberty University (“Liberty”) must pay a $14 million fine to the Department for violations of the Clery Act discovered during a program review. Liberty has also agreed to spend $2 million towards “on-campus safety improvements and compliance enhancements” in addition to already budgeted funds towards Clery Act compliance.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (“Clery Act”) requires postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV student financial assistance programs to annually disclose campus crime statistics and security information. The Department enforces the Clery Act and may impose civil monetary penalties for violations.

Prior to March 5, the largest fines imposed for Clery Act violations were:

  • $4,500,000 – Michigan State University (2019)
  • $2,397,500 – Pennsylvania State University (2016)
  • $2,350,000 – University of California, Berkeley (2020)
  • $1,500,000 – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2020)

The Department initiated a program review of Liberty in 2022 after receiving complaints alleging that Liberty had systematically violated the Clery Act and other campus safety laws. Over a dozen individuals also filed a lawsuit against the university about their safety concerns as well as allegations that the university re-victimized them after they reported sexual violence. The review covered calendar years 2016 through 2022.

The Department’s Final Program Review made findings against Liberty including the following:

  • Lack of administrative capability
  • Inaccurate and incomplete informational disclosures
  • Failure to comply with Violence Against Women Act Requirements
  • Failure to identify and notify campus securities and to establish an adequate system for collecting crime statistics from all required sources
  • Failure to properly classify and disclose crime statistics
  • Failure to issue emergency notifications in accordance with Federal regulations
  • Failure to issue timely warnings in accordance with Federal regulations
  • Failure to maintain an accurate and complete daily crime log
  • Failure to define Clery geography in accordance with Federal regulations
  • Failure to comply with Title IV record retention requirements
  • Failure to publish and distribute annual security report in accordance with Federal regulations

Several notable violations were related to the Clery Act requirements involving timely warnings and emergency notifications. The Department found the university actively suppressed the issuance of timely warnings and emergency notifications. Evidence showed that employees were directed not to issue timely warnings and emergency notifications and were threatened with disciplinary action if they failed to follow the order. During its review, the Department found that the university failed to issue numerous emergency notifications for confirmed emergencies or dangerous situations, including bomb threats and gas leaks. There was also one student and one employee who the Department stated posed dangerous conditions to the campus community for which emergency notifications should have been issued. Additionally, the Department identified 47 crimes during the review period that should have resulted in timely warnings, yet only two were issued.

Other violations related to failing to properly disclose all necessary crimes in both the annual statistics and crime log. The Department found 74 disclosure violations due to Liberty underreporting criminal offenses based on a review of records from 2016 through 2020. When reviewing daily crime log data from 2016 through 2023, the Department noted 1,452 omitted crimes and 1,949 entries with one or more errors or omissions.

In addition to the fine, Liberty must also comply with all other terms of the settlement agreement which consist of substantial remedial actions, process improvements, and program enhancements. Liberty will be monitored for two years by the Department to ensure it complies with the terms.

In a press release, the Department confirmed its commitment to ensuring institutions comply with the Clery Act. Richard Corday, the Chief Operating Officer of the Department’s office of Federal Student Aid, stated, “Students, faculty, and staff deserve to know that they can be safe and secure in their school communities. We respond aggressively to complaints about campus safety and security.” Cordray further stated, “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.”

Important Takeaways

Be proactive in your Clery compliance rather than reactive. Here are some important takeaways based on the Department’s findings in its Final Program Review.

Campus Security Authorities (CSAs):

  • Have a system in place to identify and notify your CSAs of their role and obligations.
  • Maintain documentation that your CSAs were notified of their role and obligations.
  • Ask your CSAs each year to confirm they have reported all Clery crimes disclosed to them and maintain documentation of this.

Clery Geography:

  • You must understand your institution’s real estate holdings and boundaries in order to determine your Clery geography.
  • Assess all your buildings, properties, and parcels of land to determine which geographic category they fall under.
  • Evaluate if you have separate campuses.

VAWA offense prevention and response:

  • Ensure your institution is complying with the 2015 Violence Against Women Act amendments related to sexual violence prevention and response.
  • Develop and provide the required written notification to victims of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.
  • Provide annual training to officials involved in investigation and adjudication of alleged cases of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.

Annual Security Report (ASR) and Policy Statements:

  • Accurately include all required policy statements in your ASR.
  • Ensure your institution follows the policy statements included in your ASR.
  • If you revise your ASR after you have distributed it, you must redistribute your ASR.

Crime statistics:

  • Keep documentation to support your statistical data.
  • Ensure unfounded crimes meet the statutory definition.
  • Include crimes reported to your CSAs within your crime statistics.

Emergency Notifications and Timely Warnings:

  • Do not avoid issuing emergency notifications and timely warnings because of concerns it will make your campus look unsafe.
  • Have a process in place for analyzing if an incident rises to the level of requiring an emergency notification or timely warning, and issue in a timely manner.

Record-keeping:

  • Have a system in place to maintain and manage Clery related records.
  • Do not destroy physical or electronic records that should be maintained.

Blog by ICS team member Lindsay Hatzis. Lindsay recently joined the ICS team after spending 5 years at a public university, where her responsibilities included managing the university’s Clery compliance. Lindsay will be hosting a free webinar on April 24 titled “Top 5 Recommendations for Effective Implementation of the Clery Act.” Register here.