Feds fine on WSU is excessive
Posted by Lynne Varner
An Associated Press story reports a $82,500 federal fine on Washington State University for failing to report two sexual assaults in 2007.
The U.S. Department of Education is getting tougher on college campuses who violate the Clery Act, a federal law requiring campus notification of potential threats to students and employees. They audited the campus crime statistics of about a dozen schools this year, some of those schools remain under investigation and may be fined.
Virginia Tech was fined $55,000 for failing to quickly alert the campus during the 2007 mass shooting that killed 32 students and faculty members. Virginia Tech is appealing, but according to the AP story federal officials retorted that the fine should have been higher.
Sexual assaults are serious crimes and college campuses are rightly held accountable for preventative and responsive measures. WSU is appealing their fine but they do not quarrel with the federal finding of fault. A reasonable question, however, is raised by the size of the fine: How does a school that has made numerous improvements - acknowledged by the feds in a March letter to WSU President Elson Floyd - end up being forced to pay more than a school where dozens died?
Both schools were wrong and neither pretends otherwise. It is the disproportionate punishment that is up for debate.
In a letter to campus leaders yesterday, WSU's president outlined changes made since the incident, starting with hiring a new police chief, Bill Gardner.
According to Floyd's letter, the police chief "immediately began to reorganize and restructure the department and to develop and implement new policies and procedures, adopting best practices for implementation of the Clery Act reporting requirements. As a result, we now have, and have had since 2008, reviews and safeguards in place that include built in double-checks for all criminal reports."
I might have been suspicious of such a self-serving testimonial except it jibes with the aforementioned March letter to Floyd from federal officials acknowledging the university's corrective steps.
So here's my point: If the federal fine is meant to instill an important lesson, it appears that lesson has been learned. What's my proof? Again quoting from Floyd's letter, "the (federal education) Department has referred other universities to WSU, as a model and resource for best practices."
By the way, I do not think WSU should get off scot-free. Indeed, the appeal may result in a smaller fine which would be appropriate.
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