Lehigh remains under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for compliance with the Clery Act and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. The Brown and White received over 1,400 redacted pages. (Samuel Henry/B&W Staff)

UPDATE: Clery probe to include complaints made against Peterson, Novak


The U.S. Department of Education wrote in its June 10 letter to Lehigh that it is aware of complaints that allege that Lehigh engaged in a “pattern of conduct that resulted in serious violations of the Clery Act.”

The letter announced the Clery Group of the Department of Education — the division responsible for enforcing the Clery Act — was opening a review into Lehigh to determine the university’s compliance with the law. Lehigh then made the June 10 letter public on June 14 in a statement. The letter was sent to President John Simon and was signed by Lisa Bureau, the acting director of the Clery Group.

The review is wide in scope. The “initial examination period” will cover the calendar years reflected in the university’s 2017, 2018 and 2019 annual campus security reports.

“The scope of the review may be adjusted at any time and additional records and information from other calendar years may be required as the case progresses,” the DOE wrote in its letter. 

The letter states the DOE will require “unrestricted access to unredacted copies” of records pertaining to Lehigh’s compliance with the Clery Act. Failure to cooperate will result in “administrative action” taken against the school, which includes but is not limited to a “formal fine.”

Lehigh says it will cooperate fully “throughout the process.” 

In addition to the complaints the DOE says it has received, the letter also states the Clery Group has monitored media coverage of crimes and other incidents on campus. 

“Taken together, the complaints and media accounts raise serious concerns about Lehigh’s compliance and the effects that any violations may have on victims of crime and the accuracy and completeness of the university’s crime statistics and other campus safety information,” the letter said. 

The DOE says it does not have a completion date set for the review. A final report of the probe’s findings will be produced “at a later date.” 

The DOE laid out a number of items the university is required to produce within the next month. Of note is “a list of all incident reports, complaints, and/or other statements of concern, regardless of their form, that were filed with any official of Lehigh University regarding the alleged misconduct of any kind by Lehigh University faculty (including Dr. Peterson and Dr. Novak) and copies of all such reports, complaints or other communications and any corresponding supplemental documentation.” 

The Brown and White has extensively covered the allegations made against James Peterson, a former Lehigh professor, and Thomas Novak, the former interim director of the Health Center, along with the university’s handling of both matters. Both men faced allegations of sexual misconduct and the university itself has faced allegations that administrators were aware of such complaints and failed to act. 

Both matters also prompted litigation against Lehigh. Monica Miller, an associate professor in religion studies, sued Lehigh following a chain of events triggered by Peterson’s alleged sexual misconduct and his subsequent being placed on paid leave. Lehigh ultimately won the year-long legal battle this past February.   

A Brown and White investigative report published this past March found the university was aware of allegations of sexual assault against Peterson for months before closing an investigation into him without providing notice to the school — only to open the investigation back up a few weeks later and levy disciplinary action. Peterson was also promoted while under investigation. 

Christine Feit, a former certified medical assistant at Lehigh’s Health Center, sued the university for $1.7 million. She alleged Novak harassed her and that she was retaliated against for reporting Novak’s behavior. It appears, based on the latest developments in court, that she is engaged in settlement discussions with Lehigh. 

Some of the other items Lehigh must turn over include the call logs and crime logs of Lehigh Police going back to 2014, a complete list of all emergency notifications the university has sent out since 2014, contracts and Memoranda of Understanding Lehigh has entered into, LUPD standard operating procedures and copies of educational and training materials related to rape and bystander intervention. 

Lehigh noted the DOE review is separate from the internal review the university agreed to conduct of LUPD in efforts to make the school “anti-racist.”

Lehigh will be required to produce records on a “rolling basis” and must make the appropriate officials available to answer questions via phone or video conference. 

“Access to the right people and information is essential to an effective and efficient review,” the letter states. “Furthermore, we ask that you take appropriate steps to ensure that no university official or agent encumbers or obstructs the review in any way.”

Simon will be required to attend an initial meeting with the DOE team assigned to review Lehigh. The DOE noted in its letter that the Clery review is separate and distinct from anything else, including the department’s Office of Civil Rights review into Lehigh following vandalism at the Umoja House in 2013. 

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  1. Been hoping this would happen. Accountability at last. LU/ LUPD – you have failed your students (and others) miserably – rather than seek to ensure their physical safety in the most fundamental sense – you have shown indifference and even engaged in “victim-blaming.” I just hope that your grossly inadequate response to last year’s emergency call re: a student in possession of a loaded gun is also part of the report. Your failures and dishonest communications to students re: how that actually played out will then be part of this process. And we might as well add the emergency call from the sorority house re: strange man lurking outside and your ludicrous, reckless response. And the dozens and dozens of burglaries 1 and 2 blocks “off-campus.” If you and LU actually cared about those, particularly the one with the 5 girls sleeping upstairs during the break-in, it might have sent a stronger message to the outside community that there was an effective patrol presence routinely in place. But you just wrote it off to students’ being irresponsible. And LU: is it too much to ask you to provide transport or escort for women walking at night to homes mere blocks off campus?
    My kids and I were having a heated, contentious conversation a few weeks ago, prior to the George Floyd murder and anti-police fallout. I told my child, who has had a relatively positive experience at Lehigh, that I could not in good conscience recommend the school primarily for one reason: LU and the LUPD feel no obligation to protect the lives and physical safety of its students; and those most in charge either look the other way or try to sweep this fact under the rug. Perhaps this attitude has filtered down from the upper administration’s and Board’s chronic indifference, which resulted in their allowing a perv doctor to assault female students for years, with knowledge that this was more-than- likely occurring. And in stark violation of the Clery Act, LU penalized the whistleblower, imposing silence and obstructing justice. Even worse, LU and undoubtedly Novak himself conveyed the message to male students (who are nonetheless responsible for their own actions) that a little assault here and there is ok. More Title IX issues? – don’t have enough room here.
    The first and most basic question parents sending their child off to college must ask themselves is: do I feel comfortable entrusting my son or daughter into the “care” of this community? The answer here is clear, so moving forward, I will encourage other parents and prospective students to look elsewhere.
    I trust this will not end well for LU. But LU – just know it could have been worse. You could have had a mass shooting on your campus last fall.
    “We must do better.” Time’s up, Lehigh. Too late for all that empty,self-monitoring rhetoric. You’re in the feds’ hands now. Transparency is no longer optional.
    But thank you to the ones who do care about our kids’ basic well-being, who do try to do and be better – who did try to hold the bad ones accountable. This is not addressed to you.

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