Crime on Campus: Do Colleges Have Too Much Power?
A lot of big colleges have their own police departments. They are staffed with sworn officers who have the ability to investigate everything from burglaries to murder. Depending on the type of transgression and how it gets reported, some alleged crimes are dealt with in on-campus proceedings and some are passed on to local prosecutors. One of the most troubling aspects of the Penn State scandal is that school officials who were notified that a young boy was allegedly raped in a campus shower in 2002 did not report the incident to local authorities. Their inaction begs the question that even though there are laws in place that stipulate the proper protocol to follow upon hearing reports of sexual abuse, assault and harassment on campus, What’s to stop officials at large-scale institutions — many of which operate full-fledged police departments — from sweeping such unpleasantness under the rug?
It’s often hard to know how alleged crimes are handled on campus, in part because honor committees and other campus judicial systems have confidential proceedings. One of the few oversight tools the government has is the Clery Act. Named after a Lehigh University student who was raped and strangled by another student in 1986 in her dorm room, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial-aid programs to disclose each year the number of alleged criminal offenses, including sexual offenses, that are recorded on campus or in other areas that are under university control, such as remote classrooms and fraternity houses. In addition, schools must also issue timely warnings in cases in which the reported crime represents a threat to the campus community. Last week the Department of Education announced that it was launching Clery Act investigations at two schools: one at Penn State involving allegations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had sexually assaulted boys on campus and the other at Milwaukee’s Marquette University for allegedly failing to report in a timely manner allegations that two athletes had sexually assaulted female students.
“If these allegations of sexual abuse are true, then this is a horrible tragedy for those young boys,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement announcing the department’s investigation into Penn State. “If it turns out that some people at the school knew of the abuse and did nothing or covered it up, that makes it even worse. Schools and school officials have a legal and moral responsibility to protect children and young people from violence and abuse.”