Key Takeaways from the Liberty University Final Program Review Determination

Key Takeaways from the Liberty University Final Program Review Determination

On Tuesday, March 5, 2024 the Department of Education released its Final Program Review Determination (FPRD) for Liberty University, resulting in an unprecedented fine of $14 million.  

In this review, the Department of Education communicates that “Liberty failed to implement a minimally adequate Clery Act compliance program,” resulting in a culture that silenced and blamed victims of crime. The findings indicate that students and employees were significantly harmed by a consistent lack of transparency and unwillingness to prioritize the safety and well-being of the campus community.  

While we’ll share more observations and learning over the coming weeks, here are themes that stood out to us from this review:

Intentional disregard for Clery Act requirements that promote transparency:
Throughout the FPRD, the Department highlights actions that ignore a central principle of the Clery Act: promoting transparency and accountability between the institution and its members in order to create a safer campus. Examples of this include:

  • Leadership directives to not issue alerts when there was evidence of health or safety threats — officials “were advised that violations of this directive would result in disciplinary action.”
  • Underreporting and inaccurate classification of crime statistics that prevented the campus community from having a clear picture of what violence looks like at their institution.

Lack of systems or structures to implement Clery Act requirements: 
The Department cited multiple instances where the institution did not allocate resources to support campus-wide implementation of the requirements of the law. Examples of this include:

  • Campus professionals repeatedly identified gaps in compliance and made recommendations for improvements, which were denied.
  • Not identifying required reporters (Campus Security Authorities) or notifying them of their responsibility to report crimes.
  • Appointing a Clery Compliance Officer with no authority to hold others accountable for following requirements.

Inadequate response to dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking (DVSAS):
The Department communicated that there were “breakdowns” in campus response that “was a general failure to properly advise crime victims of their rights and options … and to otherwise keep students, employees, other stakeholders, and the larger campus community fully informed of matters that affected their safety and security.” Examples of this include:

  • Confusion around application of university policies resulted in students not reporting sexual assault for fear of being disciplined through the code of conduct. 
  • Failure to provide written information to survivors on their rights and options related to reporting, requesting accommodations, and accessing support. 

This is one of the first program reviews where the entire review period occurred after the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act Amendments to the Clery Act but it won’t be the last. Moving forward, we now have clear precedent for how the Department interprets the application of the amendments. This review was also unique in that the Department had already conducted a program review for Liberty University that closed in 2010 with findings that were not then addressed by the institution. In this FPRD, Liberty University concurred with many of the Department’s findings and outlined steps they have been taking to address the points raised in the report.

While program reviews are specific to one institution, they provide an opportunity for all institutions to reexamine their compliance efforts. As the Department of Education said in the 2016 Pennsylvania State University program review, “… the Department must emphasize again that the Clery Act is not simply a collection of regulatory hurdles for a school to negotiate. It represents a carefully-constructed system of campus safety and prevention approaches and precepts that, when properly implemented, make campuses safer and enhance transparency.” (Pennsylvania State University Campus Crime Final Program Review Determination - Page #108)

Actively cultivating a culture of accountability, fostering open communication, implementing robust prevention strategies, and embracing a holistic approach to campus safety demonstrates a genuine dedication to the well-being of a campus community. As demonstrated in this report, this work requires coordination of multiple departments, sustained commitment from leadership, and dedicated training and education. 

We will continue to share resources to help campuses further digest this program review and determine what lessons institutions can take from this report. You can also access information about the Clery Act through our Resource Library and learn more about our training and membership offerings

Related Free Resources from Clery Center:

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