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Students mingle on the campus lawn at Liberty University on 20 October 2018 in Lynchburg, Virginia. Liberty University is one of America's premier Christian colleges, where religious faith is a central component of the educational curriculum. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Liberty University Agrees to $14 Million Fine for Clery Act Violations

Liberty University—a private Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, with around 15,000 students—agreed to pay a $14 million fine after the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) found a “systemic and persistent” failure by the university to comply with the Clery Act, a federal law on campus safety.

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to report campus crime data, support victims of violence, and publicly outline the policies and procedures in place to improve campus safety, according to the Clery Center. The $14 million fine is a record for Clery Act violations, dwarfing the previous record of $4.5 million handed down to Michigan State University in 2019 over the sexual abuse committed by sports physician Lawrence Nassar.

The DOE found that Liberty did not notify people on campus about emergencies and dangerous situations, including bomb threats, the attempted abduction of a young girl, and people accused of repeated acts of criminal violence, according to The Washington Post. The university also did not keep an accurate and complete log of crimes from 2016 to 2023.

The 108-page report outlined a variety of problems at the university, including how it handled sexual misconduct. The DOE found that university officials punished several sexual assault victims for violating the student honor code prohibiting premarital sex while failing to punish assailants, leading to a culture of underreporting, The New York Times reported. This is part of a long pattern of behavior, the report alleged. For instance, in 2022, 12 women reached a settlement with Liberty University after they accused the institution of fostering an unsafe environment and mishandling cases of sexual assault and harassment, including making it “difficult or impossible” for students to report sexual violence, according to the Associated Press.

“…Victims of sexual assault often felt dissuaded by Liberty administration’s reputation for punishing sexual assault survivors rather than helping them,” the report explained. “Such fears created a culture of silence where sexual assaults commonly went unreported. In addition, several whistleblower faculty members who have spoken up about the University’s failure to fix the problem of fear of reprisal among sexual assault victims were intimidated or terminated in retaliation for speaking up. This has resulted in a systemic apprehension among Liberty’s workforce about raising employee concerns about the University’s treatment of sexual assault victims and other campus safety-related issues.”

The DOE investigators also identified multiple cases that resulted in the misclassification or underreporting of crimes, including incidents—particularly sexually based offenses—that the university deemed to be unfounded, without evidence that the initial report was false, the AP explained.

The report outlined a number of findings, including:

  • Inaccurate and incomplete informational disclosures
  • Failure to comply with Violence Against Women Act requirements
  • Failure to identify and notify campus security authorities and establish an adequate system for collecting crime statistics
  • Failure to properly classify and disclose crime statistics
  • Failure to issue emergency notifications in accordance with federal regulations
  • Failure to issue timely warnings
  • Failure to maintain an accurate and complete daily crime log
  • Failure to define Clery geography (information on crime statistics based on where these crimes occur)
  • Failure to publish and distribute an annual security report
  • A lack of administrative capability to manage Clery Act compliance

The report noted that Liberty lacked “strong internal controls” that can “ensure that accurate information is effectively and often quickly communicated to responsible officials and vulnerable populations.”

“The record shows that the University failed to exercise sufficient oversight, governance, and coordination over essential activities and workstreams and the actions of officials and departments that were responsible for safety-related functions across the enterprise,” the report said. “The result of these breakdowns was a general failure to properly advise crime victims of their rights and options, to help crime victims access accommodations, protective measures, and support services and to otherwise keep students, employees, other stakeholders, and the larger campus community fully informed of matters that affected their safety and security.”

The report accused Liberty University of advertising itself as one of the safest colleges in the United States while maintaining little data on campus crime and having only one officer in its police department tasked with investigating crimes for most of the DOE investigation period of 2016 to 2023.

In addition to the fine, Liberty must spend $2 million on new campus safety improvements during a two-year monitoring period.

According to a statement from Liberty about the agreement, “The Department’s Clery Act Program Review covered more than seven years and is, by far, the most extensive review period of any higher education institution in the Department’s history of published reviews. Many of the Department’s methodologies, findings, and calculations in the report were drastically different from their historic treatment of other universities. Liberty disagrees with this unfair treatment. Nevertheless, the university was able to negotiate a final settlement and outline the terms of the Department’s two-year post-monitoring process in a collaborative manner.”

The school noted it has spent more than $10 million in significant improvements toward complying with the Clery Act since 2022, including educational programming, new leadership, and staffing.