National Data | After Virginia Tech Massacre, Time To Overhaul Clery Act To Include Race, National Origin

The Virginia Tech massacre has pushed an obscure Federal law into the crosshairs (so the speak): The Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990, aka the "Clery Act", requires colleges to disclose the number and type of criminal offenses that occur on or near campus. It was passed because of the incompetence and mendacity of college administrators. What else is new.

Jeanne Clery, 19, was tortured, raped, and murdered in her Lehigh University dormitory room on a Sunday morning in April 1986. Her assailant, Josoph Henry, another Lehigh student, had unfettered access to her room through a series of dormitory doors, all of which were supposed to be locked but were propped open instead. [VDARE.COM note: To answer a question that may occur to our readers, see here: "Henry, a sophomore at Lehigh, was angry he had just lost the Black Student Union election. He was failing out of Lehigh for a second time and was mired in a drug addiction."]

The Clerys sued the university for "negligent failure of security and failure to warn of foreseeable dangers on campus"and won. The university agreed to take specific steps to enhance security

The Clery Act followed.

You can access Clery Act data for individual campuses here: OPE Campus Security Statistics Report Index.

Colleges are never enthusiastic about reporting crime. Partly, this seems to be due to political correctness and a desire not to rock the boat. Thus, just recently, Eastern Michigan University officials continued to insist that foul play was not involved in the rape-murder of a coed until a suspect was actually arrested in February 2007. (Police had suspicions of murder in EMU case, by Joe Menard, Detroit News, March 23, 2007)

But, to be fair, the law is complicated and ambiguous. As a result, equally scrupulous colleges may follow significantly different reporting practices. A college in an inner city may report far fewer crimes than a rural institution of similar size.

Colleges that misrepresent or understate criminal activity face fines of $25,000 for each violation.  But they usually don't know if they are in compliance until they are audited. Department of Education auditors are often as unsure about the regulations as college administrators.

This hasn't prevented Senator Arlen Specter, the Clery Act's author, from urging stiffer penalties, including jail time and the withholding of federal funds, from colleges that are deemed to violate reporting guidelines. [Specter faults colleges on crime, by Patrick Kerkstra, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 20, 2006.]

What's worse, Congress changes Clery Act reporting requirements nearly every year. In 1998, for example, reporting requirements were expanded to include crimes handled by student-run judicial proceedings, whose reach varies greatly from college to college. The law also allows colleges to reclassify crimes in which alcohol has played a part. A drunken brawl among undergraduates may show up as a liquor offense rather than an assault.

The statistical mish-mash makes year to year comparisons problematic. Exhibit one: the suspiciously sharp decline in major campus crimes reported between 2000 and 2004, the last year for which national figures are available:

Criminal Offenses Reported by Colleges and Universities, 2000-2004

 

Murder/non-Negligent Manslaughter

Illegal Weapons Possession

Aggravated Assault

Forcible Sex Offenses

2000

306

7,779

28,231

5,665

2001

915

8,170

32,595

6,446

2002

221

2,819

9,695

3,902

2003

56

2,236

7,871

3,842

2004

48

2,333

7,076

3,680

Note: Includes crimes committed off-campus.

Reporting requirements and definitions change.

Source: Department of Education (2002-2004):

 

SecurtyOnCampus.org (2000-2001):

 

Apparently, college officials responsible for Clery compliance went on vacation in 2002, and haven't returned.

No-one can make intelligent judgments about the relative safety of the 6,000 campuses based solely on the Clery statistics. Problems with Clery include:

 

  • Size matters, and Clery is oblivious to it. Twenty-five assaults at a small private school indicate a far greater safety problem than the same number at a large state university. Yet Clery posts only the raw data, making it difficult to compare crime rates for different size institutions.

 

  • Race matters even more, and Clery is oblivious to race (and national origin).

Just compare the country-wide murder arrest rates (arrests per 100,000 population) for the different races as compiled by the FBI:

  • Total: 3.2

  • White: 2.0

  • Black: 11.9

  • Asian: 0.9

Are college Blacks as violence-prone as blacks are in the general population? Seems unlikely.

Are Asian immigrants more violence prone in campus settings than in other venues? Hmmm….

Only the colleges can answer these questions. They should be required to report the race and national origin of student offenders, as well as the overall student population—and calculate crime rates for each major group.

Arguably, statistical precision could not have prevented aberrational acts of violence like the Virginia Tech massacre.

But the Clery Act data was supposed to be something students and their parents could scrutinize when deciding where to apply. The data should reflect relative probabilities facing students on different campuses.

Security scores should be as accessible—and at least as accurate—as SAT scores.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.