Do You Have the Right to Know About Crimes on Campus?

When crimes happen on campus, there are some higher education institutions that do their best to keep it under wraps. But do these schools have an obligation to inform the general public and, of course, their own student bodies, about what happened?

By Jessica Lyons


Favoring Secrecy

There are several instances of schools choosing secrecy over full disclosure. For example, in June of 2007, ABC News reported that administrators at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) were being accused of covering up the on-campus rape and murder of student Laura Dickinson. Four days after her body had been found, EMU sent a release to its students and faculty, although they initially said her death was due to natural causes.

It wasn't until about ten weeks later that Dickinson's parents and the EMU community found out what really happened, although the police had been alerted of the murder. It was later reported that the school's president, vice president and public safety director had all been fired after the incident.

Another school that decided to try to keep something under wraps, although not a crime, was Ohio State. In 2010, the school's football coach, Jim Tressel, had been made aware of some potential NCAA rule violations on the part of several players. However, he didn't report it or take any disciplinary action, even going so far as to sign a certificate meant to verify that his team was in NCAA compliance. He also didn't speak up once the violations were made public and eventually resigned from his position amid the scandal.

Legal and Ethical Questions

Keeping serious crimes a secret from the public could actually represent a legal violation. In 1990, The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, known as the Clery Act, was signed into law. It is named for a Lehigh University student who was killed in her dorm. Her parents pushed for the law after it was discovered the school hadn't notified their students about dozens of violent crimes.

According to the Higher Education Center, the Clery Act requires 'all institutions of higher education that participate in the federal student financial aid program to disclose information about their crime on their campuses and in the surrounding communities.' Schools might face fines if they fail to comply and could even be suspended from being able to participate in the financial aid program.

University campus

The incidents also represent an ethical dilemma. Are schools protecting their students or providing a huge disservice? In the case of EMU, the safety of other students could have been at risk without them even knowing it since the university failed to give them accurate information about the rape and murder. At Ohio State, Tressel should have reported the possible violations as soon as he was made aware about them to not only comply with the NCAA's rules but to set a proper example for his players that their behavior would not be tolerated. In the end it didn't do the players, or the school, any good to hide the truth and instead turn it into a bigger controversy.

The Need for Honesty

No school wants to make headlines because of a crime that happened on its campus or because of the wrongdoing of a member of its community. However, attempting to hide things will only make matters worse. After all, we've all heard how honesty is the best policy.

When it comes to crimes, higher education institutions should ensure their campus community and nearby communities are made aware of what has happened so that they can protect themselves if need be. It should also be known so that potential students have information about school safety to make an informed decision about attending the school. Just like a school would inform everyone if something positive happened, they have to be willing to do the same even if it's something negative.

The way a college or university handles these situations can also teach students about life, whether it's how to own up to a mistake or how to work together as a community. As places that promote learning and help shape young adults, higher education institutions need to set good examples for their students and the general communities.

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