Liberty U threatened with $37.5M fine over alleged Clery Act violations, president says

Liberty University President Dondi E. Costin speaks at a convocation service on August 23, 2023, in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Liberty University President Dondi E. Costin speaks at a convocation service on August 23, 2023, in Lynchburg, Virginia. | YouTube/ Liberty University

Liberty University President Dondi E. Costin says the private Evangelical institution has been threatened with an "unprecedented" $37.5 million fine by the U.S. Department of Education for alleged Clery Act violations following the publication of a leaked report accusing a former president of rape and other school officials of destroying evidence.

"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," Costin said in an interview with Fox News published Monday.

The Clery Act is a consumer protection law passed in 1990 requiring colleges and universities to report campus crime data, support victims of violence and outline policies enacted to improve campus safety, according to the Clery Center.

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In its preliminary review of Liberty University's compliance with the Clery Act between 2016 and 2022, copies of which were obtained by both USA Today and The Washington Post, government officials alleged that Liberty University destroyed evidence after the inquiry began in the spring of 2022. 

Officials from the U.S. Department of Education also allege the Lynchburg, Virginia-based university founded by Jerry Falwell Sr. failed to warn the community about gas leaks, bomb threats and individuals who have been credibly accused of repeated acts of sexual violence.

Costin said the report is primarily "based on purely anecdotal information" and was leaked to "poison the well" and influence the outcome of ongoing negotiations with the Education Department.

"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," Costin said.

"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."

Costin said because the report has been leaked to the public, the university hasn'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," Costin added. 

The investigation of Liberty University's compliance with the Clery Act also highlights complaints about the school's student honor code, which prohibits sex outside marriage.

"Sexual relations outside a biblically ordained marriage, romantic displays of affection with a member of the same sex (e.g., hand-holding, kissing, dating, etc.), and actions confirming denial of biological birth sex (e.g., asking to be referred to by pronouns inconsistent with one's birth sex, using restrooms and changing facilities reserved for persons other than one's birth sex, etc.) are prohibited by The Liberty Way," the 25-page document reads in part.

The Education Department states that student complainants contend the school's guidelines discourage sexual assault victims or witnesses from coming forward.

When asked earlier this month if a copy of the preliminary report and specific disagreements Liberty University has with the findings could be provided, a Department of Education spokesperson told The Christian Post that "the U.S. Department of Education does not comment on pending institutional oversight activities, program reviews, or investigations."

Costin said Liberty University seeks to lower the potential fine through an appeals process.

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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