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FAQ: What the Clery Act is, why UNC was in violation and why it matters

Former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning filed a federal complaint with four other UNC students in 2013 against the University's handling of sexual assault claims. They accused the University of violating multiple provisions of the Clery Act, and in 2019, the U.S. Department of Education found UNC in violation of the act. 

Former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning filed a federal complaint with four other UNC students in 2013 against the University's handling of sexual assault claims. They accused the University of violating multiple provisions of the Clery Act, and in 2019, the U.S. Department of Education found UNC in violation of the act. 

Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent an email to the campus community on Monday evening, sharing the findings of a U.S. Department of Education investigation that found UNC in violation of the Clery Act, a law that requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to report crime statistics. 

The report, released by the Department of Education’s Clery Act Compliance Division, detailed the University’s violations. Here's a breakdown of the situation: 

Why did the investigation begin?

The investigation began in April 2013 after four UNC students, including then-sophomore Landen Gambill and a former administrator, Melinda Manning, filed a federal complaint against the University over UNC’s handling of sexual assault claims that year. The students claimed that UNC had violated multiple provisions of the Clery Act, specifically the "Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights."

The complaints stemmed from an incident in which Gambill filed a complaint to the UNC Honor Court about her then-boyfriend, stating that he had sexually assaulted her. Gambill was later charged with harassment by the Honor Court when her boyfriend filed a retaliating complaint. The University was accused of using the complaint against Gambill as a silencing mechanism. 

What is the Clery Act?

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) is “a federal consumer protection statute that provides students, parents, employees, prospective students and employees, and the public with important information about public safety issues on America's college campuses,” according to the report sent by the Department of Education. 

All schools that receive federal financial aid for students are required to comply with the Clery Act, which requires producing and distributing an Annual Security Report (ASR) containing campus crime statistics.

What is the purpose of the Clery Act?

The Clery Act is meant to “provide transparency around campus crime policy and statistics,” according to the Clery Center website. Essentially, the Clery Act helps ensure that current and prospective students, as well as employees and faculty, are able to make informed decisions about their safety. 

What must colleges and universities disclose in the Annual Security Report (ASR)?

The Clery Act requires that qualifying colleges and universities publicly disseminate their annual security report every year on Oct. 1. The ASR report must include accurate statistics regarding campus crime over the past three calendar years and show how the university is working to improve campus security.

What crimes are reported under the Clery Act?

Universities must report crimes in four categories:

  1. Criminal offenses, such as homicide, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and motor vehicle theft.
  2. Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) offenses, such as domestic and dating violence and stalking.
  3. Hate crimes, which include the above criminal offenses, in addition to larceny-theft, simple assault, intimidation and property damage or vandalism. 
  4. Arrests and Referrals for Disciplinary Action such as violations of weapons laws, liquor laws and drug abuse. 

What Clery Act provisions did UNC violate?

  • Lack of Administrative Capability
  • Failure to Properly Define the Campus/Clery Geography
  • Failure to Issue Timely Warnings
  • Failure to Properly Compile and Disclose Crime Statistics
  • Discrepancies between the Crime Statistics Included in the ASR and the Data Submitted to the Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool
  • Failure to Collect Campus Crime Information from All Required Sources
  • Failure to Follow Institutional Policy in a Case of an Alleged Sex Offense
  • Failure to Disclose Accurate and Complete Disciplinary Referral Statistics - Failure to Retain Records Needed to Substantiate Clery Act Compliance
  • Failure to Include Required Information in the Annual Fire Safety Reports

Who enforces the Clery Act? Who at UNC is involved?

The Clery Act is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education. However, many UNC employees are also responsible for maintaining compliance of the Clery Act. 

S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, said there are four groups that have reporting obligations, including: 

  • Campus police or the security department
  • Security who do not constitute a police or security department
  • Any individual or organization students and employees are directed to report crimes to, and
  • Officials with “significant responsibility for student and campus activities.” 

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Those officials with significant responsibility may include student affairs professionals, athletic coaches, Title IX coordinators, resident advisers, faculty advisers and/or other administrators or employees.

What areas on campus are under the protection of the Clery Act?

The Clery Act requires universities to report crimes that occur in a few locations, as reported on the Clery Act website:

  • On campus: This includes buildings and areas on campus as well as buildings and properties owned by the University.
  • Residential facilities: All student housing, including buildings that are owned by a third party and have a written agreement with the University to provide student housing.
  • Public property: This includes government property, such as sidewalks, streets and parking lots, that are located on or near campus. This also includes off-campus properties that are used or owned by recognized student organizations and off-campus property used or owned by the University for educational purposes. 

Why are UNC's violations significant?

“Clery Act findings, especially this severe, are rare, with only an average of about six findings per year since enforcement began in 1996,” Carter said. 

Carter said that the report’s findings indicated to him that UNC has likely not provided accurate information about crime statistics and campus safety information for decades. 

What are the potential ramifications of the violations?

If violations are found, institutions may face civil penalties up to $35,000 per violation for violations occurring on or before November 2, 2016, and $57,317 for violations occurring after Nov. 2, 2015, Carter said. 

“The maximum fine must be imposed for each unreported violent crime with a statute of limitations of five years,” Carter said. 

UNC could also face limitations, suspensions or terminations to its eligibility for student aid programs, but Carter said that has never occurred before.