Washington State U. Fined $82,500 for Violating Campus-Safety Rules

August 20, 2011

The U.S. Department of Education said on Friday that it would fine Washington State University $82,500 for failing to disclose two sexual assaults in 2007 and for maintaining insufficient campus-safety policies.

The university's three violations of the main federal law on campus-crime reporting, the Clery Act, endangered Washington State students and employees who rely on campus-crime statistics and statements, a federal education official wrote in a letter to the college's president, Elson S. Floyd.

The university vehemently disagrees with the department's finding and will appeal the fine, said a Washington State spokesman, Darin Watkins.

In March, Virginia Tech was fined less, $55,000, for failing to quickly warn students in 2007 about a gunman who ended up killing 33 people. The largest Clery Act fine, $350,000, was imposed on Eastern Michigan University three years ago for failing to alert the campus that a student had been murdered.

The Washington State fine stems from the Education Department's decision to randomly review dozens of colleges as part of an effort to monitor Clery Act compliance. Three universities, including Washington State, were found to have committed violations during 2007.

In one case at Washington State, the letter said, a woman told a campus police official that she had been raped by her husband's friend. The incident was classified as a "domestics dispute" instead of a forcible sex offense, a mistake that the university later acknowledged, the letter said.

In a second incident, an employee reported a dormitory rape to the campus police that was omitted from campus reports because a records manager decided the case was unfounded. Under the Clery Act, only a law-enforcement official should make such a determination, the letter said.

Washington State also failed to make public certain policies, such as how it prepared crime statistics or imposed sanctions for sex offenses. The college has since corrected its policies, but the 2007 violations remained, the letter said.

The findings are "excessive," said Mr. Watkins, the spokesman, who said the campus initially reported seven rapes in 2007 instead of eight. "To me," he said, "it's a reach to say that because we reported seven and not eight rape cases, somehow this puts our students and employees at risk."