Liberty University agrees to pay record $14m fine

(CP) Officials at Liberty University told The Christian Post they have made efforts to ensure proper compliance with Title IX regulations following the school's unprecedented settlement with the federal government.

The flagship evangelical university in Lynchburg, Virginia, settled with the U.S. Department of Education earlier this week, agreeing to pay $14 million related to violations of the Clery Act that requires colleges and universities receiving federal funding to report data of campus crime and report threats to students.

The fine is the largest levied under the Clery Act, which was enacted in 1990.

The Education Department, which initially threatened a $37.5 million fine, said it identified multiple cases in which on-campus crimes were misclassified or underreported. Federal officials also accused the university of failing to warn the community about gas leaks, bomb threats and individuals who have been credibly accused of repeated acts of sexual violence.

Liberty University President Dondi E. Costin, who was hired last year, told CP the university didn't fully comply with its record-keeping and reporting obligations as the institution experienced record growth, for which he expressed regret. He said Liberty sprung into action when officials learned of its shortcomings before the Education Department got involved.

"We formed a task force to identify every deficiency and engaged outside experts to help us build the model program we now have," Costin said. "Having invested more than $10 million to deliver significant increases in staffing, training, infrastructure, technology and programming, I can say with absolute confidence that Liberty University now sets the pace for campus safety and security."

Ashley Reich, Liberty's chief compliance officer, told CP that the university recruited an outside consultant to review its Title IX policies. That consultant, she said, provided 99 recommendations to bring Liberty into compliance.

"A task force was created in October 2022 to review the recommendations and put a timeframe around them for implementation," Reich said. "All of the recommendations (plus, many others) were fully implemented by August 2023 with many that were completed within the first 90 days of the review."

Reich said that the school intends to maintain consistent oversight regarding internal quality control and standard business practice through the recent creation of Liberty University's Office of University Compliance.

The external consultant company Healy+ assisted Liberty with conducting a full-scale review of its compliance with the Clery Act, Reich explained, adding that the school voluntarily implemented a Program Improvement Plan in October 2022 that outlined many of the Clery requirements and best practices.

"This allowed us to address the main violations that many schools struggle to comply with due to the nuances of the Clery Act," she said. "Our team went to work quickly to find ways to not only comply with the Clery Act but do so efficiently."

Costin said students and alumni have "overwhelmingly expressed their appreciation for Liberty's transparency in acknowledging past deficiencies, our demonstrated commitment to fix what was broken, and our significant investments in transforming our operation into a benchmark program other universities can now model."

"If it's Christian, it ought to be better," Costin said, quoting Liberty University founder Jerry Falwell, Sr. "Because of the impressive progress that has been made, our students and alumni can see that we have achieved that standard with respect to our Clery Act compliance."

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