Campus Security | News

Virginia Tech Calls Warnings 'Timely' by 2007 Measure

In response to the United States Department of Education's preliminary report on Virginia Tech's response to the 2007 mass shooting, the Blacksburg university has issued a response that vehemently objects to the department's findings. ED began its investigation Sept. 4, 2007 specifically to examine the university's compliance with the "Timely Warning" provisions of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.

The Clery Act is a federal statute that was put in place in 1990 in response to the 1986 killing of a freshman at Lehigh University. University administrators hadn't made public the information about 38 previous violent crimes committed on campus in the previous three years. So the point of the Clery Act was to force universities that accepted federal student aid funding to report their crime statistics.

Among other areas of compliance, Title 20, Section 1092 of the Act calls for institutions to give "timely warnings" of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of the campus community. The text specifically states: "... Such reports shall be provided to students and employees in a manner that is timely and that will aid in the prevention of similar occurrences...."

It's that reference to "timely" that's at issue in the dueling reports.

According to the modestly sized 11-page preliminary report from ED, the university "failed to issue adequate warnings in a timely manner in response to the tragic events of April 16, 2007." The findings noted two areas of non-compliance: first, that the warnings issued weren't "prepared or disseminated in a manner to give clear and timely notice to the health and safety of campus community members"; and, second, that the university didn't follow its own policy for the issuance of timely warnings as published in its annual campus security reports.

Virginia Tech has countered that its response to the initial shootings was actually quite timely--by the standards in place in 2007. "The University's notification after the first shootings in West Ambler Johnson Hall did not violate the timely notification component of the Clery Act, a position that is validated by one of the nation's most experienced campus law enforcement professionals and a foremost expert on the Clery Act," wrote Michael Mulhare, Virginia Tech's director of emergency management and primary author of the report. "Neither DOE nor the Clery Act defines 'timely.' However, DOE's compliance guidelines illustrate 48 hours as an acceptable timely notification procedure. Other Clery guidance, as well as industry practices, calls for notices to be released within several hours or days. The university actions were well within these guidelines and practices."

The Virginia Tech report reminded readers, "We have all learned from the April 16 tragedy. Our campus and countless others are safer because of what we've learned and the actions we've taken."

The university's response is now being weighed by ED to "determine appropriate additional actions."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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