On Thursday, the Department of Education announced the conclusion of its five year investigation of Pennsylvania State University’s compliance with the Clery Act, which stemmed from revelations about the Jerry Sandusky sexual assaults. The report details some 11 identified violations and announces monetary fines totaling $2.4 million. Prior to yesterday’s announcement, the largest Clery Act fine in history was assessed against Eastern Michigan University in the amount of $357,500 (although the university only paid $350,000). The Clery Act has been in place since its passage in 1990. However, the Department has consistently increased the requirements for reporting and, in recent years, has more aggressively imposed fines for non-compliance.

What this means to you.

Although the Pennsylvania State University Clery Act review was prompted by revelations of the Sandusky sexual assaults, the bulk of the fine the Department assessed was for failing to appropriately classify reported incidents and disclose crimes on the University’s Annual Security Report (“ASR”). These failures to report account for $2,167,500 of the total fine. Violations relating to the Sandusky matter itself, accounted for only $27,500 of the total fine.

This significant fine serves as a reminder of the Department’s intent to aggressively enforce the Clery Act. Typically, an institution will be selected for a Clery Act review if there is a precipitating public incident (as in this case) or, if during a Title IV Program Review, the institution is found to have Clery Act violations necessitating additional review. However, the Department’s findings are likely to pertain to the institution’s Clery Act compliance on a broad level—not simply with respect to the precipitating event that prompted the review.

To ensure compliance and manage the risk of adverse Clery Act findings, schools should preemptively conduct internal audits of their ASR, published Consumer information, and biennial drug and alcohol reviews. In addition, too many schools rely solely on campus police/security to create the ASR and manage Clery Act compliance. Instead, colleges and universities should create a Clery Act compliance team that includes representatives from campus police/security, student affairs, the Title IX office, and legal counsel.