By Seth Jones –
A federal judge reduced a proposed fine against Tarleton State University for failing to accurately disclose information about campus crimes by more than $100,000.
The judge said federal officials with the Department of Education failed to show that a $137,500 fine was “appropriate” despite the university’s “admitted failure” to comply with the Clery Act.
Chief Judge Ernest C. Canellos of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Hearings and Appeals reduced the fine to $27,500.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires universities to make timely disclosures about serious crimes on campus, such as sex assaults and burglaries.
The size of the fine Tarleton may eventually have to pay, however, remains uncertain.
Tarleton Vice President for Institutional Advancement Rick Richardson said the general counsel for the Department of Education has appealed the ruling of Judge Canellos.
“This matter is still under appeal and it is unknown when a final decision will be rendered,” Richardson said.
In 2009, The J-TAC, Tarleton’s campus newspaper, published a story by a team of student journalists in an advanced reporting class that detailed the university’s underreporting of “the number of sex offenses, drug law violations and burglaries between 2003 and 2005.”
According to the story, “none of 10 sex offenses reported to police were disclosed in an annual crime report available to the students, employees and the public.”
The story also determined the number of burglaries on campus were underreported. According to the Department of Education, “from 2003 to 2005, there were 29 reported burglaries when there were actually more than 60,” the story said.
Judge Canellos said he found “no evidence of a fraudulent intent by anyone” and “no evidence of previous violations of Clery reporting requirements.” He also noted that Tarleton corrected the reporting errors when university officials learned of them.
”It seems quite apparent that similar errors in the Clery Act reporting will not recur in the future by virtue of the corrective measures that Tarleton has implemented,” the judge’s ruling stated.
In an appeal of the fine, Tarleton attorneys argued the $137,500 penalty arbitrary, capricious and “should be dismissed as an abuse of discretion” to no more than $25,000.