Liberty University is firing back at the U.S. Department of Education, claiming that a department official leaked a report alleging it covered up sexual assault incidents and generally underreported crime on campus to preserve a clean reputation.
The Washington Post published an article earlier this month on an Education Department investigator’s report on the school’s Clery Act compliance which was released on May 1, saying it showed the school routinely failed to keep its campus safe, underreporting crime claims and discouraging reports of it in the first place.
Colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs must keep and disclose crime statistics and other timely information about campus safety. In 2020-2021, Liberty University received $874 million for student loans and grants from the Education Department (ED).
Officials at the private evangelical university in Virginia deny the claims laid out in the Education Department’s findings. Liberty’s president worried that the leak of the ED’s findings to the Post will impact negotiations with the ED and believes someone leaked the report to “poison the well.”
Additionally, the school says it’s been threatened with an unprecedented $37.5 million fine, which would be far more than recent fines levied on universities by the Department of Education, such as a $4.5-million one slapped on Michigan State over the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
“The most damaging element of this whole process is the fact that for the first time that any of us are aware, the Department of Education leaked a preliminary report while we are in the process of negotiating with the department about all the advancements that we’ve made. And so that’s the biggest issue,” Liberty University President Dr. Dondi E. Costin told Fox News Digital.
“The leak is intentionally aimed at laying the groundwork for an unprecedented fine and the report is filled with factual errors that the Department has admitted to Liberty in their negotiations.”
Co-founded by Christian Right activist and televangelist Jerry Falwell, Sr., Liberty is known for its conservative honor code that governs personal behavior, such as prohibiting premarital sex. Liberty presides over 48,000 students and is located in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Costin alleged that before they could build a case to the ED before a deadline on June 30 to dispute the findings, the report was leaked.
The university released a statement reporting that it “made significant advancements” in safety since October last year.
“I think if you look in the Department of Education report, what you will see are a number of unsupported assertions of bad faith. It’s as if they are mind-reading the university,” Costin, who was appointed by the board in March, said. He said the university prioritized the safety and security of students without exception.
“They are making claims about our intentions. They’re claiming that we acted in bad faith. I think there are a number of factual errors in the report. For instance, they are assuming that individuals who are making these claims are accurate and honest and transparent without exception, when in fact, much of the assertions that they’ve made are based on purely anecdotal information,” he continued. “Part of the challenge that we have here, because they leaked this report is now in the public, is that we haven’t had the opportunity to respond in a way that would allow us, at least in a public setting – allow us to counter these assertions that have been made with factual errors… I would say, in bad faith, and in many cases there are misstatements of legal requirements.”
According to the Washington Post, anonymous sources revealed that Liberty University violated the Clery Act due to “a fundamental lack of administrative ability to keep the campus safe.”
“It found the school did not adequately take complaints of crimes, produce incident reports, warn the campus of emergencies and threats to safety, advise crime victims of their rights or handle the data needed for crime statistics,” the Post reported.
These include “gas leaks, bomb threats, and people credibly accused of repeated acts of sexual violence.”
Furthermore, the Post’s reporting claimed the ED report lays out serious sexual assault accusations against top brass officials and an athlete. It included that a former president was among the perpetrators that committed a rape. However, no sexual assault perpetrator was identified as the investigation “focused on whether allegations were reported, not whether they could be substantiated.”
The Education Department’s investigation also cites students’ complaints about the university’s “honor code” – community guidelines that, for instance, promote chastity. Their complaints address that the guidelines discourage sexual assault victims or witnesses from speaking up.
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