Campus crime will be less of a mystery to the public with the disclosure provisions for criminal incidents and disciplinary decisions included in the Higher Education Act of 1998 adopted this week by Congress, according to Society of Professional Journalists President Fred Brown.
“Students and parents have a right to know about crime on campus. It can be a deciding factor in selecting a school or seeking a transfer,” Brown said. “Misguided efforts to protect the accused or to prevent embarrassment too often have kept important crime information hidden.”
The bill, which President Clinton is expected to sign into law next week, requires all colleges and universities receiving federal funds to keep a public log of all criminal incidents, including the nature, date, time and general location of each crime and the disposition of any criminal complaint. It requires the information be made public within two days of the incident, and that additional information missing from the initial report be promptly added to the police log.
It also will prompt colleges to disclose the names of students disciplined for crimes of violence and “nonforcible sex offenses,” including the violation committed and any sanctions imposed against the student. Brown had asked the conference committee to expand the disciplinary disclosures to include all criminal behavior, in order to make public how institutions discipline students accused of such crimes as theft and drug and alcohol offenses.
“These revisions to the law, while still falling short in a few areas, are nonetheless a real improvement over what we’ve had until now. Students, their parents and the public have reason to celebrate these new disclosure requirements,” Brown said. “Now, campus and professional news media will be better able to keep them informed about crime and the discipline of students who commit those crimes.”
William M. Lawbaugh, chairman of SPJ’s Campus Courts Task Force, said it was a real breakthrough just to get the disciplinary disclosure provisions included for the first time in the higher education authorization law.
“We have a long way to go, especially in getting colleges to recognize the Sixth Amendment by opening up their campus courts to press and public, but the amendable language and framework are now in place,” he said.
Brown commended the lobbying efforts of the five-year-old Campus Courts Task Force, as well as Security on Campus Inc., a victims’ rights group working in coalition with SPJ for greater public disclosure of campus crime information.
Other campus security advancements included in the new law include:
Victims of nonforcible sex offenses can be informed of disciplinary outcomes, including acquittals, where previously only victims of violent crime could learn how colleges disciplined their alleged attackers.
Parents of students under 21 who are disciplined for drugs and alcohol can be informed about those violations.
Crime statistics reported by colleges and universities must include alcohol, drug or weapons violations that are referred to campus courts for discipline, even when a formal arrest is not made.
Crimes occurring on sidewalks and streets on and around campuses must be included in the schools’ annual crime statistics.
Manslaughter and arson cases were added to the list of crimes for which colleges and universities must make annual statistical disclosures.
“Under this law, college administrators will no longer be able to use their secret campus courts to avoid embarrassing public disclosure of such serious campus crimes as date rape and hazing,” said Campus Courts Task Force founder Carolyn S. Carlson. “Without such a convenient mechanism for hiding campus crime, hopefully they will become more vigilant about referring crime to the proper law enforcement authorities and reporting it to the public.
The Society, the nation’s largest organization of student and professional journalists with more than 13,000 members, has been active for more than a decade in seeking greater access to campus crime information. Members of its Campus Court Task Force met with members of Congress and testified at congressional hearings in June 1996 and July 1997 on this issue.
“While we’ve made significant progress, the Society will continue to fight for full disclosure of all criminal incidents and related disciplinary action occurring on our nation’s campuses,” Brown said. “The public has a right to know about it, and the news media serving the campus community has a responsibility to provide that information.”
For detailed information about the campus security provisions of the Higher Education Act of 1998, visit the Security on Campus web site at www.securityoncampus.org.