Lehigh announced in a news release on June 12 that it has been informed that the U.S. Department of Education has initiated a review into the university’s compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or Clery Act.
“We received the notice on Wednesday (June 10) and plan to cooperate fully, providing all documents requested,” said Lori Friedman, Lehigh’s media relations director. “The notice did not provide specifics.”
The news release also noted that an “outside, independent review” of the policies and procedures of the Lehigh Police Department “has begun,” though Friedman said she wasn’t able to comment at this time as to who is conducting that review.
What do we know about this probe launched into Lehigh?
The Brown and White has reviewed and verified two official complaints against Lehigh that were sent to the Clery Division of the Department of Education within the past year. However, The Brown and White cannot confirm that either of these two complaints sparked the review into the university. The Brown and White also cannot confirm the nature of the review or its scope.
One complaint was filed by Monica Miller, an associate professor of religion studies, on March 19, 2020. Miller was the plaintiff in a year-long legal battle with the university, which Lehigh ultimately won this past February.
The other complaint was filed by Susan Magaziner, ‘77, who filed as a third party complainant. Magaziner filed an initial complaint against Lehigh to the Department of Education’s Clery Division on March 21, 2019. She later filed an addendum to that complaint on March 24, 2020.
Both Miller and Magaziner’s complaints reference Lehigh’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against James Peterson, a former professor at Lehigh who resigned in January 2018 after he was placed on paid leave. The Brown and White reported extensively on the Peterson situation this past March. The report found that the university was aware of allegations of sexual assault against Peterson months earlier than was previously known, and that Peterson was promoted while under investigation.
Magaziner, in her addendum, specifically alleges the university violated the “timely reports” portion of the Clery Act, as well as the “statistics” category, which mandates universities accurately report on campus crime incidents. Miller alleged in her lawsuit that she herself was sexually harassed by Peterson.
The Brown and White requested a copy of the letter sent to Lehigh from the U.S. Department of Education announcing the review of the university but have not seen the letter as of the time of publication. The Brown and White is currently assessing the feasibility of obtaining the document through a Freedom of Information Act Request should the university choose not to share the letter.
While Lehigh made the announcement of the Clery review contextualized in a news release related to racial issues, it is not clear if the Clery review into Lehigh has anything to do with race, as race is not a central part of the law.
What is the Clery Act?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Clery Act is a federal law that requires all colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to “maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information.” The department conducts reviews to evaluate an institution’s compliance with Clery Act requirements, and can levy fines — sometimes in the hundreds of thousands or millions — if the department finds Clery Act violations.
The Clery Center, a national nonprofit dedicated to working with institutions of higher education to ensure Clery Act compliance, said each individual Clery Act violation can result in a fine of approximately $58,000.
In famous cases of Clery Act violations, Michigan State was fined $4.5 million in 2019 for violations to the law and Penn State was fined $2.4 million in 2016.
The Clery Act is designed as a campus security and safety measure. Under the act, colleges and universities are required to disseminate an annual security report with campus crime statistics.
There are several categories of crimes that must be reported, including criminal offenses like sexual assault, rape, aggravated assault and burglary. The Clery Act was expanded in 2013 to include violations of the Violence Against Women’s Act, including stalking, domestic violence and dating violence. Hate crimes also fall under the Clery Act.
You can view Lehigh’s Clery crime statistics here.
Another key component to the Clery Act includes the mandate that a “timely warning” or “emergency notification” be sent out to the campus, or to relevant segments of the campus community, if there is a serious or ongoing threat. Victims of Clery Act crimes also have “resources guaranteed to them.”
The Department of Education says a review may be initiated “when a complaint is received, a media event raises concerns, the school’s independent audit identifies serious non compliance, or through a review selection process that may also coincide with state reviews performed by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) Audit Unit.”
Once a review is completed, the department issues a Final Program Review Determination. A general compliance review will be completed, with potential penalties levied against the institution depending on if violations of the Clery Act are found.
The amount of reviews conducted through the Clery Act varies by year. The Department of Education reports only one review of an institution was conducted in 2019. By contrast, 12 schools were reviewed in 2017.
The history of the Clery Act is important, too
Jeanne Clery, for whom the law is named, was raped and murdered in her Lehigh dorm room in 1986. President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act in 1990, federal legislation which would eventually turn into the Clery Act. The law was enacted under the belief that campus crime awareness prevents victimization, and required post-secondary schools to record campus crime statistics and safety policies.
The law has only grown from there.
In 1992, an amendment to the bill allowed for greater access to resources for campus crime victims, according to the Clery Center. The bill was renamed in 1998 to honor Clery, eliminated loopholes, mandated daily crime logs and expanded reporting requirements to certain off-campus areas.
In 2008, the Clery Act was expanded to emergency response and notification provisions and provided protections for whistleblowers, among other items. And President Barack Obama reauthorized the Violence Against Women’s Act in 2013, which amended the Clery Act to add additional reportable crimes.
Jordan, it’s important in telling the story of the Clery Act to discuss Lehigh’s resistance to both the Clerys’ investigation into what happened to their daughter and to being held to account for that coverup or for being quiet about dozens of other incidents of violence on campus in the years leading up to her murder. I cannot recall a single instance, either, of Lehigh students supporting the Clerys as they persisted. I think it’s worth exploring how student attitudes have changed in the meantime and why.