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University failed to report crime as required

Amid a debate on how to combat a spike in campus sexual assaults, the University of Nebraska at Kearney has been fined for not disclosing crime statistics.
A college campus at night.
A college campus at night.

The University of Nebraska at Kearney has been fined $65,000 for violating the Clery Act, the federal law that requires many colleges to publicly disclose crime statistics.

The university's 2009 annual security report failed to comply with federal regulations in three separate areas, the Department of Education said in a letter last month. Among the violations is a failure to “properly compile and disclose crime statistics.” The Department of Education said the university calculated its crime statistics based on to whom a crime was reported, instead of where it occurred. UNK also fell short of a requirement to properly distribute the annual report to prospective employees and prospective graduate students, according to the government.

The Nebraska school is the fourth institution this year found to be in violation of the Cleary Act, and the news comes amid a debate on how to address a rise in reports of sexual assaults on college campuses. A bipartisan group of eight senators unveiled legislation last month to improve how sexual assault is addressed on campuses.

The proposed Campus Accountability and Safety Act would provide a public database of campus assaults. Clery Act fines for schools found to be under-reporting or not reporting assaults would jump from $35,000 to $150,000. Schools can realistically lose all federal funding if they don’t meet current requirements, but lawmakers say that because a total loss of funding would gut schools, the government has never imposed totally pulling the plug. UNK’s $65,000 fine is equivalent to a little more than the university’s in-state tuition for four years.

Dozens of schools are also facing investigations for potential violations of Title IX, a federal requirement that colleges and universities properly respond to campus sexual assault allegations. A Washington Post analysis last month found more than 3,900 reports forcible sex offenses on college campuses in 2012 – an increase of 50% over three years. 

Other schools found in violation of the Clery Act this year were Mid-Atlantic Christian University in North Carolina, Midlands Technical College in South Carolina, and Sterling College in Kansas. The Clery Act applies only to universities and colleges that receive federal funds for financial aid programs.

According to UNK's most recently available report on crime statistics from 2012, liquor law violations accounted for most of the crimes on and off campus. There are no reported murders dating back to 2010, and there were 12 reports of sexual assaults from 2010 to 2012.

The letter notifying UNK of its violations is dated July 3, but school officials formally acknowledged the fines this week, with UNK and the Department of Education saying the violations and causes have been addressed.

“UNK is a safe campus, with very low rates of crime overall and very few incidents,” university spokesperson Kelly Bartling said Monday in a statement. “We are disappointed in the nature and magnitude of these fines, but will remain proactive and vigilant in terms of campus safety and compliance.”

One women’s group, UltraViolet, is pressuring The Princeton Review to include sexual assault statistics in its annual rankings of American colleges and universities. The Review has so far refused their calls and an online petition, saying it currently informs readers of crime statistics by linking to the school’s Clery Act. An msnbc investigation in May found more than one-third of those links to be defective, but The Review has since corrected all broken links.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified Sterling College in Vermont as a school found in violation of the Clery Act. It was Sterling College in Kansas.