Department of Education investigation finds numerous Clery Act violations at Occidental

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Harrison Kallner

Occidental received the findings of a Department of Education (ED) investigation Aug. 15 regarding allegations that the college had violated provisions of the Clery Act. The Clery Act is a federal law mandating the collection and reporting of campus crime statistics to the public. The law was enacted in 1990 in response to the rape and murder of college student Jeanne Clery in her dorm room at Lehigh University. The act is meant to provide students and parents transparent information about educational institutions. In order to receive federal funding, colleges and universities must abide by the act’s reporting rules.

The ED report listed nine findings, which collectively outlined violations at Occidental that the department deemed “numerous, serious, persistent and systemic.”

The Findings

President Jonathan Veitch released the 61-page document via email to the Occidental community Aug. 23. The report, which is also posted on the school website, provided an extensive outline of failures on the part of Occidental College to comply with provisions of both the Clery Act and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (DFSCA).

The findings outlined the administration’s lack of capability to implement and develop Clery — and DFSCA — compliant programs at the college. These offenses, which included failures to collect and disclose crime statistics, failures to issue timely warnings regarding potential threats and failures to upkeep the Daily Crime Log, manifested in myriad errors and omissionsIn addition, the college did not provide enough information on drug and alcohol prevention and treatment.

Finding No. 1 identified 79 incidents that the administration did not report to the community over a five-year period. Additionally, looking at what the ED called a relatively small sample of the college’s Daily Crime Log, the report unearthed an additional 36 incidents in 2012, 31 incidents in 2013 and two incidents in 2014 which had previously gone unreported. According to the report, the college retroactively corrected these reports.

The ED said that between 2010 and 2014, 22 required statements regarding policy, practice and procedure were absent in the Annual Security Report (ASR), an annual report disclosing campus crime statistics and policy mandated by all schools receiving Title IX funding.

The second finding delved into more detail regarding key omissions in the ASRs published by the college. For example, the report stated that in 2010, the school reported seven out of the 24 incidents of forcible sex offenses that occurred on campus. The college failed to disclose an accurate and complete collection of crime statistics in its ASR reports from 2009 through 2015. Since then, the college has retroactively corrected 315 errors in its disclosing of its crime statistics. According to the report and Marty Sharkey, associate vice president of marketing and communications for the college, 236 of those errors encompassed the over-reporting of some crimes due to a misunderstanding of policy regarding Clery geography.

“The people submitting the Clery statistics at that time thought the requirement was the broader area of anywhere Campus Safety might escort someone to,” Sharkey said.

The report also highlighted specific examples that occurred during the years investigated by the ED as evidence of the real world effects of these violations. One incident, which took place in 2012, outlined a hate crime which was incorrectly labeled as harassment.

The report describes a complainant who was surrounded by approximately five or six males who began to call him homophobic slurs such as “f—–.” In the report, the college disagreed with this finding, arguing that the crime had been misclassified on the basis that the victim did not fear for his safety based on the fact that the complainant did not report the incident to law enforcement or Campus Safety. In essence, the college asserted that the incident did not meet the qualifications of intimidation.

The report upheld its finding in this instance and called the administration’s response unpersuasive. ED called the incident fear-inducing and threatening, sustaining the finding of a misclassification.

Another incident highlighted the college’s failure to issue timely warnings of crimes which posed a serious and ongoing threat to students, employees and the general campus community. The report mentions an incident of sexual assault which occurred on campus May 23, 2012, around 7:40 a.m. An Eagle Rock High School (ERHS) student was allegedly assaulted as she walked through campus on her way to school. According to the report, an ERHS teacher reported the incident to Campus Safety within an hour of its occurrence.

The college did not put out a timely warning, the ED said, violating both the Clery policy and the college’s internal policy for the issuance of timely warnings.

Previous Complaints

Associate Politics Professor Caroline Heldman said the investigation stemmed from complaints filed by frustrated members of the Occidental community — specifically, the student-run Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC), who felt that their repeated calls for changes regarding sexual assault and other crimes were ignored.

According to OSAC’s website, where an extensive timeline of their work can be found, OSAC attempted to lobby the administration to accept policy changes but felt that the administration stymied their efforts.

Heldman, who helped write the complaints filed by OSAC, described seven years of both student and faculty activism, leading up to the filing of both Clery and Title IX complaints in April 2013.

“To make a long story short, after seven years of trying to get the administration to do a better job of handling this [sexual assault], OSAC decided that we were going to file,” Heldman said.

The Reaction

The outcome of the investigation did not come as a shock to the administration or the complainants.

Sharkey said the administration was not surprised by the findings of the report.

“I don’t think we knew every detailed finding in there, but the college knew that our efforts and processes and policies in the effort of Clery crime reporting were not where they needed to be,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey said the investigation was fair, agreeing that the college was not doing enough to comply during the period investigated.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Heldman said. “I knew, at least for the years I analyzed, that the college’s reporting was not in compliance with federal law.”

Despite the consensus of a fair investigation, it is important to note that the report itself states that the college challenged each of the department’s findings.

“Occidental’s response to the Program Review Report registered at least partial disagreement with each finding of violation; however, the college’s management did not identify the elements of each finding which with it did not agree nor did they provide evidence of substantial compliance during the review period,” the report stated.

The report also noted that Occidental management failed to locate any legal or factual flaws in the department’s presentation.

The administration responded to this fact as a matter of standard procedure.

“It’s largely a procedural item that is somewhat unique to the Clery process … Because we had some differences in opinion over the scope of their findings, we agreed ‘in part’ and disagreed ‘in part’ where we saw differences,” Veitch said via email.

Policy Changes

In his statement to the Occidental community, Veitch outlined concrete steps the college has taken to improve its crime reporting statistics.

These steps included the August 2013 hiring of a new Campus Safety chief, Victor Clay, who has since has left the college; the July 2014 hiring of a full-time Clery Coordinator, Veronika Barsegyan, who has since left the college; providing training for the staff responsible for Clery reporting; professionalizing Campus Safety policy and procedures; the creation of a Clery compliance team in June 2013 with representation from departments across campus; enlisting consultants to advise on potential policy and procedural improvements; and improving transparency for issues that may present safety concerns.

Former Chief of Campus Safety Clay described actions taken by Campus Safety in order to do a better job complying with the Clery Act.

“I tried to streamline everything. I used Clery requirements as a parameter and then some of the traditional campus security and law enforcement standards as parameters, and I tried to create goals within those,” Clay said.

Heldman also noted that changes in policy are having some positive effects.

“It took many years, and it took federal complaints, but the college has made some significant progress on this issue,” Heldman said.

Potential Connection to Title IX Investigation

This report comes soon after another publicized Title IX investigation, conducted by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The results of the investigation were published in a letter on the ED’s website.

“OCR’s investigation found a campus actively engaged in important work to satisfy Title IX responsibilities for all students,” the letter stated. “OCR found insufficient evidence that the college violated Title IX.”

The letter uncovered no explicit violations but expressed concern over certain administrative activity.

“OCR was concerned about actions by college administrators to discourage students from speaking up about their experiences with sexual violence, indicating that the college’s staff may not be aware of their responsibility to safeguard student speech, along with the Title IX requirement not to interfere with student advocacy,” the letter stated.

Sharkey dismissed the idea that any legitimate connection could be drawn between the two investigations.

“I think that they are connected in that they are complaints that started at the same time period, so the two topics are often, within the community, often connected together,” Sharkey said. “I think the outcomes of the two investigations show that they are not that connected.”

Potential Penalties

While the investigation is now closed, more news on this issue could be imminent.

The ED may impose substantial fines for these violations. In his email, Veitch said he was told the process will take at least 60 days and that any developments regarding fines will be shared with the community when the college receives them.

The full report can be viewed on Occidental’s website either by searching for “Clery” or via the Campus Safety page.