Tough on (Not Reporting) Crime
Tarleton State University administrators thought they were getting a good deal when an administrative law judge let them off with the equivalent of one $27,500 fine for more than 70 violations under the Clery Act, which requires colleges to report crimes and crime statistics to students and to the federal Department of Education.
Turns out that federal education officials aren’t satisfied that easily — the agency is insisting on four times that fine and perhaps more.
Tarleton had failed to report dozens of crimes and arrests in their campus area between 2003 and 2005 (“Aggie Secrets,” Dec. 8, 2010). The Department of Education originally fined the university $137,500. College officials appealed the fine, however, and Ernest C. Canellos, the education department’s chief administrative law judge, cut it down to $27,500 — the maximum fine allowed for one violation. It was the first time any Texas university had been fined under the Clery Act.
Earlier this month, however, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan overruled Canellos’ decision and moved the fine up to $110,000 — $27,500 for each of three sex crimes and a robbery that the university did not report.
And that’s not all. Duncan also sent the case back to the Office of Federal Student Aid “for recalculation of the appropriate fine for the remaining 70 violations of the Clery Act.”
“We are disappointed Secretary Duncan has reversed the chief judge’s ruling and taken a stance that does not consider the context and mitigating factors,” said Janice Horak, assistant vice president of marketing and communications at Tarleton, in an e-mailed statement.
Horak said the university still hopes the “mitigating factors” will be reconsidered and result in a lesser fine.
“Nobody I’ve talked to really knows what to expect. Nobody I know thought this would drag on this long,” said Tarleton journalism instructor (and former Fort Worth Weekly staffer) Dan Malone.
The violations were brought to light in 2009 when Tarleton’s student newspaper staff, including Malone’s students, wrote a series of news stories exposing and exploring the violations they had found through open records searches. The students’ work won regional and statewide journalism awards.
Since then, Malone said he has seen the university become more dedicated to transparency and to complying with Clery. The university has a new police chief, police reports are more readily available, and responses to open records requests are more prompt, said Malone, a Pulitzer Prize winner from his days at The Dallas Morning News.
“I think the stories have made Tarleton much more transparent than they were beforehand. I think the students made the university a better place,” he said.