The University of Montana in Missoula is facing a $966,614 penalty from the U.S. Department of Education for reporting "inaccurate and misleading" crime statistics — on everything from liquor violations to rape from 2012 to 2015.
The Missoulian reports that the proposed fine appears to be one of the highest on record for campus security issues.
The university plans to appeal the dollar amount even though it concurs with the findings, says communications director Paula Short. She says the fine is based on data that the university itself reclassified after a request from the department.
"U of M doesn't dispute the data changes, as we're the ones that made those," Short says. "We stand by that piece. We feel like the magnitude of the fine is something we want to discuss with the DOE, and we are going to exercise our avenues to do that as outlined in the letter."
In the letter to University President Seth Bodnar, Education Department official Susan Crim outlined the separate fines the federal agency plans to levy, and its rationale.
"UM's violations of the Clery Act and the Department's regulations are very serious," Crum says. "UM's current and prospective students and employees rely on the institution to provide accurate disclosures of campus crime statistics so they can make informed decisions about their personal safety.
"UM provided its current students and employees with inaccurate and misleading crime statistics for calendar years 2012 through 2015 as part of its … (annual security reports)."
The Jeanne Clery Act requires colleges and universities that receive federal funds to report crime statistics so the public can assess campus safety.
In the past, UM swept rape reports under the rug. However, since a federal investigation into the flagship for mishandling reports of rape and sexual harassment and an ensuing 2013 agreement between the campus and the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, the university has stepped up its focus on student safety.
"Our students and their safety are our top priority," President Bodnar said in an email. "The University of Montana has been recognized by many as a blueprint for other universities in creating a safe and secure campus, and we aim every year to be the safest campus in the country."
The review started in 2011, when the department conducted a campus crime program assessment at the university. At the time, it found that UM did not properly classify crimes or publish accurate and complete statistics from 2009 to 2011.
In January 2017, the department asked UM to review its earlier crime statistics "to determine the extent of underreported and misclassified crimes," the letter said. UM acknowledged underreporting and discrepancies in April 2017, and it corrected data in its subsequent annual report.
The letter notes the following omitted crimes:
•18 crimes in the 2013 report for the previous year, including one "forcible" sex offense.
•90 crimes in the 2014 report, including 52 "liquor law referrals" and 34 "drug law referrals."
•22 crimes in the 2015 report, including six "forcible sex offenses/rape."
•3 crimes in the 2016 report.