Tarleton State University has been fined $137,500 by the Department of Education for failing to comply with the Clery Act in its 2005 and 2006 annual security reports and a 2007 revised report.

A letter, dated Oct. 6, 2009 and written by Director of Administrative Actions and Appeals Division Mary Gust, fines the university for six separate incidents in which it failed to comply with the federal law. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities across the nation to disclose information about campus crimes and security policies in an annual report, including sex offenses, robberies, burglaries and liquor and drug violations.

Tarleton received a $27,500 fine for each of three forcible sex offenses which occurred in 2006; a $55,000 fine for failing “to accurately compile and report other incidents;” a $27,500 fine for one robbery, 35 burglaries, 22 drug arrests and one referral for drug law violations; and a $27,500 fine for an additional four burglaries, six drug arrests and two referrals for drug law violations.

“The inaccurate information presented by TSU as a result of its failure to comply with the (Higher Education Act) HEA and the department’s regulations deprived the campus community of vital information on campus security and denied individuals the opportunity to take adequate steps to provide for their own safety and that of others,” Gust stated in the letter. “Therefore, TSU’s failure to comply with the Clery Act amounts to a substantial misrepresentation… and warrants the imposition of a fine…”

Gust’s letter stemmed from a complaint filed in April 2007, which accused Tarleton of not accurately reporting crime statistics. The complaint was based on several articles published in The J-TAC, Tarleton’s campus newspaper, in which journalism students reported a significant number of underreported burglaries and sexual assaults that were brought to light through open records requests made in 2006.

According to Gust’s letter, the Department of Education asked Tarleton to respond to the complaint. In a reply dated July 5, 2007, Tarleton “asserted that it was meeting all of the requirements of the Clery Act.”

In its reply, Tarleton did not mention that it had revised its 2006 annual security report in May 2007.

In April 2008, the Department of Education held its week long program review and discovered that Tarleton “replaced the inaccurate online version with a revised 2006 annual security report on or about May 22, 2007.” The researchers did not, however, find any evidence of Tarleton notifying students or the public of the revised copy. The revision included an additional three forcible sex offenses, one robbery, 35 burglaries, 22 arrests for drug violations and one referral for drug law violation.

In February 2009, the department issued a Program Review Report to Tarleton, which included the department’s findings that the university had not complied with the Clery Act and with the implementing regulations.

Tarleton’s final response to the Program Review Report was received by the Department of Education on April 14, 2009. In its response, Tarleton agreed that it had underreported the crimes.

“On or about April 7, 2009, TSU corrected the crime statistics in its annual security report on its Web site to reflect the correct number of incidents,” Gust stated. “In addition, on or about April 7, 2009, TSU submitted to the department updated crime statistics information.”

Two months later, on June 10, 2009, the Department of Education issued its Final Program Review Determination (FPRD), which found Tarleton failed to accurately report additional crimes in its revised statistics, including four burglaries, six drug arrests and two referrals for drug law violations during the 2005 calendar year.

During the FPRD research, Department of Education representatives investigated the underreporting through interviews with Tarleton police officers.

“During the program review process, Sergeant John Hutson and Lieutenant Randy Dolloff, TSU police department personnel, stated that their understanding of the Clery Act requirements was incomplete when the crime statistics for the 2006 annual security report were initially compiled, but that the crime statistics were revised after learning more about the Clery Act reporting requirements,” Gust stated.

Tarleton’s police department was under the direction of Robert Hooper during the time the underreporting occurred. Hooper, who had been employed at Tarleton since 1987, has since retired. The police department is now under the direction of Chief Justin Williams, who was hired in December 2007.

While Tarleton made an effort to correct its submitted reports, Gust stated that its failure to report accurate crime statistics resulted in a skewed public, student, employee and future student perception of crime on campus and deprived them of safety and security at the university.

“(T)he campus community was not fully informed, in accordance with Clery Act requirements, to adequately provide for its own safety and security and that of others. TSU’s correction of the crime statistics after the fact does not excuse its earlier failure to comply with its legal obligations,” Gust stated. “The correction of violations does not diminish the seriousness of not correctly reporting these incidents at the time they occurred.”

The Department of Education imposed the fine on Tarleton, effective Oct. 28, 2009, unless the university submitted a request for a hearing or written material indicating why the fine should not be imposed.

On Wednesday, Tarleton released a prepared statement concerning the fine.

“In 2007, Tarleton recognized that unintentional mistakes had been made in its reporting under the Clery Act. Actions were taken by university personnel to correct those mistakes and implement a new process designed to help ensure compliance with reporting requirements,” the release stated. “The process includes multiple reviews of the annual report prior to issuance. One of the reviews is conducted by the university’s Clery Act Compliance Committee.”

The release also stated that the university has filed an appeal with the Department of Education’s Administrative Action and Appeals Division, which will be referred to the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Liza Benedict, a spokesperson for Tarleton, said the appeal will result in a hearing with the Department of Education. A final date for the hearing was not available at press time.

“Tarleton State University is committed to maintaining a safe campus, as well as to the filing of accurate Clery Act reports. As significant further information develops, updated statements on this matter will be issued,” the release stated.

See Friday’s edition of the Empire-Tribune for an interview with Tarleton Police Chief Justin Williams and other university officials who will discuss what changes have been made since the underreporting occurred.