Education official increases Tarleton fine: Campus crime disclosures at issue

By Matt Linex and Jenny Cline – 

America’s highest-ranking education official levied an $110,000 fine against Tarleton State University for underreporting crimes on campus.  The fines stem from a series of Clery Act violations from 2003-2005. The university failed to report sex offences, drug law violations, burglaries and other violations.

The U.S. Department of Education originally fined the campus $137,500, but that was reduced by an administrative law judge to $27,500. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s June 1 order raised the fine to $110,000. In his ruling, Duncan also asked officials to recalculate “the appropriate fine for the remaining 70 violations of the Clery Act.”

Duncan said officials should not have issued a single fine for multiple crimes. That “is tantamount to sending a message…throughout the nation that regardless of whether your crime report omits one crime or 101 crimes, the maximum fine is the same.”

University spokeswomen Janice Horak said the university’s errors were unintentional. She noted that the judge said the $137,500 fine he reduced did “not comport with our concept of justice.”

“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,” she said. “Tarleton State University is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for our students, facility, staff and visitors, and to full compliance with the Clery Act.”

Dan Carter, a former public policy director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit campus crime watchdog group, has followed the Tarleton case since the fine was first proposed in 2009.

“This decision is a significant victory for ensuring that institutions provide accurate information under the Clery Act and that there is an accountability for failing to do so,” Carter said.

“This is a nationally precedent setting case about far more that just Tarleton State. I can’t reiterate that point enough. The ability to issue fines for misreporting single incidents of crime makes Clery a significantly stronger tool,” said Carter.

“This is the first time that a secretary of education has ruled on a Clery Act case,” he said. Cases are normally settled before they reach the administrative law judge, he said

The Department of Education began its investigation of Tarleton after journalism students on campus reported in 2007 that the university underreported sex offenses and burglaries.

The university corrected the erroneous crime reports, later hired a new police chief and Clery oversight committee to review crime logs.

Tarleton Chief of Police Justin Williams a Texas A&M System official referred questions to Horak.


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