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Liberty University fined $14 million for federal crime reporting violations

Students walk across Liberty University's campus in Lynchburg, Va.
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
/
AFP/Getty Images
Students walk across Liberty University's campus in Lynchburg, Va.

The U.S. Department of Education is fining Liberty University $14 million, the largest penalty on record, for failing to comply with a federal campus crime-reporting law.

Department officials announced the settlement Tuesday. It came after a lengthy investigation that found numerous violations of the Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges to record, and warn their communities about, campus crimes and dangerous situations.

The department's findings are detailed in a more than 100-page report, which describes how, from 2016 to 2023, the Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., demonstrated "serious, persistent, and systemic violations." The report says the college discouraged students from reporting crimes, did not adequately respond to incidents of sexual violence, failed to tell the campus about criminal activities or dangerous situations (such as gas leaks), and did not maintain an accurate or complete list of crimes.

Federal investigators reached out to about 100 individuals for this report, including former and current university employees, students and parents.

In addition to the $14 million dollar fine, the settlement also stipulates that Liberty spend $2 million on improvements to campus safety over the course of a two-year federal monitoring period, which ends in April 2026.

"Students, faculty and staff deserve to know that they can be safe and secure in their school communities," said Richard Cordray, the chief operating officer of the Education Department's Federal Student Aid office. "We respond aggressively to complaints about campus safety and security."

Cordray said Liberty administrators had acknowledged almost all the violations identified in the report and were committed to remedying them going forward.

"Liberty is firmly committed to Clery Act compliance and the safety and security of our students and staff without exception," the university said in a statement.

"While the university maintains that we have repeatedly endured selective and unfair treatment by the Department, the university also concurs there were numerous deficiencies that existed in the past. We acknowledge and regret these past failures and have taken these necessary improvements seriously."

The school says the settlement money is in addition to more than $10 million it has already spent since 2022 to make "significant advancements" to campus safety.

The $14 million fine is the largest Clery Act settlement yet. In 2019, Michigan State University was fined $4.5 million for Clery Act violations, and in 2020 the University of California, Berkeley, was fined $2.35 million.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.