Liberty University Fined $14M for Mishandling, Misreporting Campus Crime

Liberty also agreed to pay an additional $2 million to improve on-campus safety.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on March 7, 2024
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  • The Department of Education handed down the largest fine ever for Clery Act violations.
  • Liberty University will pay the fine and promised to address past failures.
  • The department accused the school of mishandling sexual assault allegations and misreporting crime statistics.
  • The university alleges the department's investigation was unfair.

Liberty University must pay a $14 million fine for violating federal laws regarding disclosure of campus crimes and the handling of sexual violence accusations.

The Department of Education (ED) and Liberty reached this settlement agreement to conclude a two-year investigation dating back to February 2022. The investigation stemmed from a series of lawsuits and complaints that alleged Liberty University violated the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to provide accurate crime statistic data to students, faculty, and families.

ED said this is the largest fine ever for violating the Clery Act.

The department will continue to monitor Liberty until April 2026 to ensure the university complies with the settlement agreement and makes improvements.

Students, faculty, and staff deserve to know that they can be safe and secure in their school communities, Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid (FSA), said in a statement Tuesday.

Through the Clery Act, schools are obligated to take action that creates safe and secure campus communities, investigate complaints, and responsibly disclose information about crimes and other safety concerns. We will continue to hold schools accountable if they fail to do so.

A series of lawsuits starting in 2021 alleged that the Christian university discouraged students from reporting sexual assault or other misconduct. Plaintiffs in the initial lawsuit stated that university officials threatened that doing so would cause students to be in violation of the school's honor code, The Washington Post reported at the time.

FSA's investigation found 11 Clery Act violations at Liberty University, including:

  • Failure to comply with Violence Against Women Act requirements
  • Failure to properly classify and disclose crime statistics
  • Failure to issue emergency notifications in accordance with federal regulations
  • Inaccurate and incomplete informational disclosures in its annual security report

Additionally, FSA found that Liberty failed to develop and implement an adequate Clery Act compliance program between 2016 and 2023.

The settlement agreement states that Liberty must bring its programs into compliance.

Liberty University responded in a statement that it believes it has already addressed many of the issues outlined in ED's report. The institution outlined 22 advancements it has made to campus safety and Clery Act compliance since October 2022, including $10 million in investments to improve campus infrastructure, security assets, and surveillance equipment.

Liberty also revealed it worked with Healy+, a professional services firm specializing in Clery Act compliance.

It promised to invest another $2 million as part of the settlement.

It is a new day at Liberty University, the university said in a statement. We now have a model Clery program for compliance with many campus improvements that will benefit our students and staff for years to come.

Liberty University's statement added that it felt it was the target of unfair treatment from ED during the investigation.

The department's Clery Act Program Review covered more than seven years and is, by far, the most extensive review period of any higher education institution in the department's history of published reviews, Liberty's statement read.

Many of the department's methodologies, findings, and calculations in the report were drastically different from their historic treatment of other universities. Liberty disagrees with this unfair treatment.

Still, the institution acknowledged and accepted many of its past deficiencies, including inaccurate statistical reports and the failure to send out emergency notifications.