'The most damning I've ever seen:' Liberty University allegedly violated federal safety laws for years

ABC News 13, Virginia/October 3, 2023

By Kelsey Childress

Lynchburg, Virginia — A new preliminary report from the Department of Education found that Liberty University has broken federal safety laws for years, according to the Washington Post.

The Post said they obtained the initial report, which found Liberty University failed to keep its campus safe and repeatedly violated the Clery Compliance Act.

According to the report, between 2016 to 2022, Liberty failed to warn people on campus about gas leaks, bomb threats and people accused of sexual violence. The findings also claim university officials destroyed evidence after investigations began.

"The Department of Education's preliminary findings against LU are the most damning I've ever seen in over 26 years of reviewing these types of investigations," said S. Daniel Carter, a campus safety consultant and President of SAFE Campuses LLC.

He has worked with the Clery Act for decades. He started his career working alongside Connie and Howard Clery in the late 1990s, helping to ensure the Department of Education was enforcing the Campus Security Act, which was later renamed the Clery Act in 1998. Throughout his career, he has filed Clery complaints, read reports, audited campus crime statistics and tracked records. He now works with institutions to build campus safety frameworks around the Clery Compliance Act.

A new preliminary report from the Department of Education found that Liberty University has broken federal safety laws for years. (WSET)

He weighed in on the report against Liberty University.

"I think the most significant finding is overall that LU lacked a comprehensive report to compliance with the Clery Act, lacked infrastructure necessary to put everything into place to keep their campus safe. The lack of adequate personnel, the lack of adequate training, lack of adequate authority to comply with the law. Those are the most serious findings," Carter explained.

According to the Post, the report also cites an alleged rape committed by a former Liberty president that was not entered into the daily crime log. However, the report does not name which former president.

ABC13 reached out to former LU president Jerry Falwell Jr. about that finding.

"That was the first I'd heard of it. I have no idea what that's about. It's definitely not me. I never heard any allegations like that about anybody. In fact, I didn't hear any allegations that Liberty wasn't compliant with the Clery Act or not reporting crimes properly until after I left Liberty," said Falwell Jr.

Jerry Falwell Jr. comments on Liberty University's alleged federal safety laws violations. (WSET)

The collective findings from the Education Department could result in consequences if they are consistent in the final report from the Education Department.

"Institutions can face a $67,000 per violation fine. They can also face limitations on their ability to access federal student aid or be removed from federal student aid programs; that's the most serious consequence," Carter said.

Carter said an institution has never been removed from federal student aid programs. However, the Department did signal in the initial report that is something they are considering because of some of the more serious findings against Liberty.

I reached out to Liberty University for comment. A spokesperson sent us the following statement:

"In Spring 2022, the U.S. Department of Education launched a program review of Liberty University’s compliance with the Clery Act between 2016 and 2022. During the review, Liberty identified historic gaps in compliance, which the University both acknowledged to the Department and took timely action to remedy by strengthening its Clery Act compliance program. Since the initiation of the review, the University has been engaged in dialogue with the Department about reaching a timely, efficient, and fair resolution, which would address the past gaps in compliance and support an effective, legally compliant Clery Act compliance program moving forward.

Liberty University engaged the firms Cozen O’Connor and The Healy+ Group early in this process to help facilitate and administer a multi-year review of Clery Act compliance and ensure full candor and cooperation with all of the Department’s requests. This review included full access to campus crime data, requested University records, and institutional statements, policies, and procedures in place to adhere to the Clery Act standards for campus safety.

Throughout the entire process, the University has regularly communicated with the Department to appropriately address each step of the program review. In May 2023, Liberty received a program review report of the Department of Education’s preliminary findings. Liberty submitted an initial response on June 30, 2023, including the results of a comprehensive file review conducted by Healy+, and a supplemental response on September 21, 2023 detailing significant errors, misstatements, and unsupported conclusions in the Department’s preliminary findings.

Based on the extensive information and documentation it provided to the Department, Liberty has every expectation that the Department will carefully evaluate the information and documents and correct the errors in the preliminary program review report.

The University remains committed to working with the Department through this process. The University and Department have a shared interest in a principled, reasonable and fair resolution that reflects accurate fact-finding, supports effective Clery Act compliance, and recognizes the candid and collaborative approach Liberty has taken since the onset of this review. Our request of the Department has been straightforward – that the University be treated in the same manner as similarly situated institutions, and that the Department treat Liberty fairly in accordance with its established precedent.

Liberty University continues to prioritize safety and security for all students, faculty, and staff, and we are dedicated to resourcing and strengthening our programs campus-wide. Since October 2022, we have made significant advancements that include the formation of the Office of Equity and Compliance that encompasses both Title IX and Clery Act compliance; major capital investments in security assets and equipment; along with prevention and awareness trainings and online resources for our University community that promote transparency, accountability, and intervention. Since October 2022, Liberty has provided regular, unsolicited updates to the Department concerning the improvements made to its Title IX and Clery Act programs.

The University's statement also included a statement specifically from LU's President Dondi Costin, which reads:

“Liberty University has established a strong, sustainable, and legally compliant Clery Act program that prioritizes compliance, transparency, and the safety and security of our entire campus without exception. Liberty University remains fully committed to ensuring compliance in this area is met and maintained and understands the purpose of this review process is ultimately in the greater interest of our students, faculty, and staff. More than that, we recognize the original purpose of the Clery Act is for the health, safety, and overall well-being of our entire University community as we remain steadfast in our mission of Training Champions for Christ.”

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here