When former FBI Director Louis Freeh released his report on the child sex scandal that rocked Penn State, media reports focused on the pointed accusations against university officials. Although they knew about allegations against former football coach Jerry Sandusky, they did nothing to keep him off campus or involve local police officials.
But campus safety experts honed in on another part of the report, which indicated Penn State's complicity in hiding crimes on campus went much farther than the Sandusky scandal.
According to Freeh's report, Penn State officials repeatedly ignored the Clery Act, a 1990 law requiring colleges and universities to report all major campus crimes, including murder, rape, theft, arson and aggravated assault. The act was named for Jeanne Clery, a freshman at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA who was raped and murdered four years earlier by a fellow student.
The Freeh report documents multiple unsuccessful attempts by Penn State campus police to persuade university leaders to strengthen their Clery Act efforts. From 1991 to 2007, the university relied on an untrained crime prevention officer to oversee the entire program. When that officer told a supervisor he needed help or "we could get hurt really bad here," he was told there was no money for the needed support.
Campus safety experts say the problem pervades many college campuses.
"This is a much broader concern," said S. Daniel Carter, director of a campus safety project at a charitable foundation formed by the families of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting victims. "Penn State is a microcosm of the entire field of higher education."
Ten schools have been fined a total of $1.4 million for Clery Act violations since 2007, according to Chris Greene, a spokesperson for the Office of Federal Student Aid. Offenders include Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, VA, East Michigan State University, in Ypsilanti, Mich., Texas A&M, in College Station, Texas, Washington State University, in Pullman, Wash., and Tarleton University, in Stephenville, Texas.
Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus, suggested to the Associated Press that the aftermath of the Penn State scandal could offer schools a belated chance to reassess their approach to taking crimes on campus seriously, just as the Virginia Tech shooting spurred improvements in threat assessment and emergency planning.
"Sad but true, we are a very reactionary society," she said. "More needs to be done to institutionalize campus safety. It should not fall just on the shoulders of campus police."
The Clery Act security reports can be found on most university websites or by contacting campus security. Security reports released by several Christian colleges and universities show nothing unusual in comparison with their secular counterparts.
Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va., Baylor University, in Waco, Texas, and Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Ill., all had one murder take place on campus between 2008 and 2010. Baylor reported having no sexual assaults during those years, while Wheaton reported 21 incidences of sexual assault. Liberty also reported 13 incidents of arson, a higher rate than Wheaton or Baylor. Wheaton College also reported more than 2,400 thefts in those three years.
The Department of Education reports no fines given to any Christian colleges for Clery Act violations.
Penn State could be fined up to $27,000 per violation in the Sandusky case, and for any other Clery Act violations unearthed during the investigation. The government also could withhold the school's federal student aid over violations.
In a statement released by the campus safety group she created with her late husband, Connie Clery expressed her disappointment at the rampant abuse that unfolded on the campus just 170 miles from the college her daughter attended, and in the state where she still lives.
"Even so, I am heartened by the knowledge that there are many colleges and universities that are now considering their own policies and procedures and making changes in an effort to protect their students," she said. "Students can only have a secure learning environment if the entire campus community makes their safety a priority."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.