As new federal regulations on campus crime call for colleges to increase their transparency, institutions themselves routinely push back, saying they are protecting student privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The federal government published final regulations for the Violence Against Women Act on Oct. 20 that outline new pieces of information colleges must make public in their annual security reports under the Clery Act. The regulations require colleges to report statistics including those on dating and domestic violence and stalking; how many reported crimes were ultimately “unfounded”; the number of crimes driven by gender identity or nationality; imposable sanctions following a disciplinary hearing for dating or domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking; and policy statements that explain the college’s options for reporting, protective measures and efforts to prevent violence.
Ithaca College reported the dating and domestic violence and stalking statistics in the 2014 Annual Fire and Safety Report. The campus saw 10 criminal reports of dating violence and 25 reports of stalking in 2013, according to the report. The college also reports crimes driven by gender or race as classified under “hate crimes,” and the report includes policy statements on reporting and prevention. However, the number of unfounded crimes is not included in the report.
Terri Stewart, director of public safety and emergency management, said the college will include these final revisions in the 2015 annual report.
One commentary from the Chronicle of Higher Education goes as far as to suggest that police departments under the control of college administrations interfere with justice. John Paul Wright, professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, and Kevin Beaver, professor in the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, argue that college police departments should be disbanded.
Michael Leary, assistant director of judicial affairs at Ithaca College, said in his experience, the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management has been thorough with its investigations and communicative with the college administration.
“If there was a sexual assault on campus … I think there’d be a full investigation, and it would be supported by all the administration,” he said.
At the college, it is up to the student whether he or she wants to appeal their case to the local police — out of the hands of FERPA — or with the Office of Judicial Affairs on campus, which has a much different judicial process, Tiffani Ziemann, Title IX coordinator, said.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said though the victim is responsible for telling the police about a crime if they choose, colleges are also able to inform the police. However, he said, many colleges will not if the student declines to, which could potentially allow or promote repeat offenses due to the lack of accountability if the attacker is not punished.
“That’s a terribly dangerous practice, of course, since it can result in a serial offender remaining on the loose,” he said.
However, a case can reside both with local courts, where information is public, and with the college, where case information is private under FERPA, Leary said.
Should the student want to pursue a case criminally by pressing charges, Public Safety must conduct an investigation and file it through the college’s judicial process and through the local court process with the District Attorney, who will decide whether or not to take the case, Ziemann said.
“I think that’s a really important distinction that there are certain things that if they rise to felony level, Public Safety has to report those to the city and work with the DA about whether or not charges will be pressed,” she said.
Through the judicial process on campus, she said, students can opt for an individual hearing in which each party speaks with Leary, or a hearing with the Conduct Review Board for cases of domestic violence or sexual assault. The primary witness, or victim, and the accused both have the right to a special adviser for the process, to know who will serve as justices on the board and to ask and answer any questions during the process. Board decisions, determined by a majority vote, must be supported by a preponderance of the evidence, or “more likely than not” to have occurred, she said.
The board recommends sanctions if they think the accused is responsible, which Rory Rothman, senior associate vice president of student affairs, then reviews, she said.
“We try to make sure it is fair and as equitable as possible and follow the due process we have written out,” she said.
With regard to the handling of these sexual assault cases, Leary said the college is ahead of the curve.
He said the college’s special conduct review board was put together in 2008–09, several years before the U.S. Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter last year that firmly reminded colleges of their Title IX requirements.
“A lot of colleges were scrambling, like ‘wow, we have to get our process together,’” he said.
Additionally, Leary said he and Ziemann; Nancy Pringle, vice president and general counsel for legal affairs; Traevena Byrd, associate counsel and director of equal opportunity compliance in legal affairs; and Stewart met with the educational affairs committee of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees about three weeks ago to provide an update on the college’s compliance with Title IX, including how the college responds judicially to sexual assaults and its training of advisers.
Though the college’s use of preponderance of the evidence is a level of proof beneath that of criminal law, the practice is consistent with educational institutions, Ziemann said.
“In an educational institution, it’s not like we’re actively trying to get people in trouble, but we need to be sure that people are held accountable for their actions, and I think this creates an opportunity for folks to be a part of the process,” Ziemann said.
In addition, Leary said the college judicial process is usually much quicker than a criminal justice process. A student can have a hearing within a few weeks, he said.
In response to the claim that colleges under-report sexual assault judicial proceedings, Ziemann said the rate of sexual assaults on campuses and the number of expulsions not matching up is misleading.
“I think what’s difficult is that sexual assault and sexual misconduct happen a lot on college campuses,” she said. “The number of those that get reported and go through the judicial process is really low.”
With sexual assaults being such an under-reported crime on college campuses, Leary said judicial affairs only sees about one to two cases each year.
Furthermore, he said FERPA exists to protect students’ rights and reputation, especially in the case that they are wrongly accused.
“I really think we try to make reasonable decisions about FERPA,” he said. “We don’t hide behind it — it’s there for protection, but bottom line is, you try to make reasonable, well-thought-out decisions for the health and well-being for the individual student and the whole community.”