Education

Feds: UNC-CH didn't warn students of campus crime, underreported annual numbers

Posted November 18, 2019 8:00 p.m. EST
Updated November 19, 2019 7:43 a.m. EST

— Federal investigators have determined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill violated the law for years by inaccurately reporting the amount of crime on campus, including not warning students early on about potential safety threats.

The U.S. Department of Education has been investigating UNC-Chapel Hill since 2013 and provided its final determinations to university administrators in August. But Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz didn't release the report until Monday, when he issued a statement detailing changes the school has made in recent months to upgrade campus safety.

"My entire leadership team and I are deeply committed to ensuring that our campus, as well as the surrounding areas, are safe for our students, faculty, staff and visitors," Guskiewicz said. "We will continue to invest in resources and training to ensure the university has the right tools and procedures to accurately prevent, respond to and report crimes and issue timely notice of any known safety threats to the campus community."

The investigation was prompted by complaints from several women who said UNC-Chapel Hill underreported sex assaults in an annual report on campus crime and created a hostile environment for students trying to report an assault.

Last year, the Department of Education found that the university's actions violated Title IX regulations. Federal investigators now say the school also violated the Clery Act, which mandates annual disclosure of campus crime statistics, and the Higher Education Act's fire safety requirements.

"The University has failed to meet its regulatory responsibilities in numerous and serious ways. Such a failure calls into question the willingness and the ability of UNC to meet its obligations not only to the Department ... but also to its students, employees and the campus community," the report states. "With regard to the Clery Act, such impairment resulted in the institution's systemic failure to provide students and employees with important campus crime information and services essential to their safety and security."

The report included nine findings of deficiencies, including an overall lack of administrative capability; inaccurately compiling crime statistics by misclassifying or excluding at least 20 reports from 2009 to 2012 or failing to include data from Granville Towers, several fraternity and sorority houses and areas just off campus; and failing several times to issue timely campus safety warnings in cases where no one had been apprehended after a crime.

Investigators also dinged UNC-Chapel Hill for delays in producing accurate records during the lengthy probe, noting information had to corrected twice in May alone.

"[It] is abundantly clear that the Department's intervention was the impetus for substantially all of the remedial steps that were taken by the University and that no such action would have been taken if the agency had not intervened by conducting this review," the report states.

Student protests prompted then-Chancellor Holden Thorp to appoint a task force in 2013 to study campus sex assaults. The following year, the school adopted a new policy that detailed prohibited conduct, including stalking and gender-based harassment, provided resources for victims and outlined the adjudication process.

Students were removed from the grievance panels that hear sex assault cases – only trained personnel handle the cases now – and students were required to take an online sexual violence and harassment training course.

On Monday, students said they weren't surprised by the findings.

"I don't see any new movement. I don't see them taking any action to fix this issue, and I keep seeing more violence but nothing that's done about it," student Masiha Rizwan said.

Guskiewicz said a team from a nationally recognized consulting firm for Clery Act compliance matters will be on campus this week to recommend improvements. UNC police also are receiving extra training from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, he said, and a new vice chancellor to oversee issues such as compliance and public safety will join the administration in January.

Investigators said UNC-Chapel Hill could be fined by the government for its violations, but the school's participation in federal student aid programs isn't in jeopardy.

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