Breaking Campus News. Launching Media Careers.
Some students skeptical, others support feds’ $14M fine against Liberty University

Christian school allegedly failed to report on-campus crimes to government

A record $14 million fine against Liberty University is drawing mixed reactions from students after a federal investigation found repeated failures to report on-campus crimes.

The private Protestant institution in Virginia recently agreed to pay the fine as part of a settlement with the Department of Education. A federal investigation found “serious violations” regarding campus crime reporting and other safety issues, according to a news release from the department.

“The U.S. Department of Education is committed to holding all institutions accountable for serving the best interest of students and other stakeholders,” a department representative told The College Fix in a recent email. “We take our oversight seriously, follow the facts where they lead, and will not be dissuaded from enforcing the law and protecting students, institutional employees, and the public.”

The department found that Liberty, one of the largest Christian schools in the country, failed to comply with “numerous sexual violence prevention and response requirements of the Clery Act, such as providing victims of sexual violence with appropriate notice of their rights and options and deficiencies in the investigatory and adjudicative process.”

Additionally, the university failed to uphold the Violence Against Women Act, failed to properly classify and disclose crime statistics to the federal government, failed to issue emergency notifications and timely warnings in accordance with federal regulations, failed to comply with Title IV crime record retention, and kept inaccurate and incomplete informal disclosures, according to the department.

Responses to the fine were mixed among students who spoke with The Fix via social media.

Sports medicine major Laura Rowland told The Fix via Instagram that it’s about time the university gets reprimanded.

“If you cover up assaults it’s going to come back and bite you,” Rowland wrote. “It’s ridiculous they just implemented the blue light call boxes. Plus the ‘amnesty’ part of reporting cases of abuse and assault was rarely upheld. I think that paying a fine is the least they should be doing.”

Communications major Will Cash said he read articles about the crimes Liberty was accused of not reporting.

“I think what the university did was very irresponsible. Covering up sexual assaults just because it is not in the ‘Liberty way’ is shameful,” Cash wrote via Instagram. “There should never be at any point at time a student shouldn’t feel comfortable enough to go to their authoritative figure and tell them that they got sexually assaulted, and then to cover it up is even worse.”

MORE: Biden administration targets largest Christian university, fines it $37M

Others expressed outrage in support of the school.

Law graduate student Victoria D’addesi said she thinks there are bigger problems the federal government should focus on.

“There are other schools where one in four students are raped. One in four. Why isn’t the government focusing their energy on those schools?” D’addesi wrote in an Instagram message. “And of course I agree Liberty shouldn’t have mishandled it. That should not have happened. But $14 million? When there’s not even a safety issue? It would make more sense if we had an actual safety problem that wasn’t being addressed.”

Some surveys have suggested one in four female students are victims of sexual assault, though the reliability of those findings have been questioned.

These students’ responses were outnumbered by others who told The Fix they were unaware of the situation and felt too uneducated to comment.

Meanwhile, the university police and media offices did not respond to multiple requests for comment over the past two weeks via phone, email and in person. The Fix asked questions regarding their next steps and policy plans in making Liberty a safer campus for students.

Liberty University President Dondi Costin

University President Dondi Costin (pictured) informed students about the department’s investigation in a March 5 email. His message mentioned the Clery Act and “numerous compliance deficiencies,” but not the Violence Against Women Act or the investigation’s findings regarding its treatment of sexual assault survivors.

Costin also mentioned the fine at a convocation ceremony March 6, summing up the reprimand to “sloppy record keeping and inattention — certainly not malfeasance.”

“As soon as we found out that we were not in compliance fully with that law …, the leadership team jumped into action, and what the leadership team did was we figured out what was wrong,” Costin said. “We acknowledged past mistakes, and we fixed it.”

Costin said Liberty also created a task force to make the university the “best possible and safest campus” before the department’s investigation began.

“While the university maintains that we have repeatedly endured selective and unfair treatment by the department, the university also concurs there were numerous deficiencies that existed in the past. We acknowledge and regret these past failures and have taken these necessary improvements seriously,” the university said in a news release in March.

As part of the settlement, Liberty will spend $2 million to improve campus safety, according to the university’s news release.

The federal government also will continue to review the situation through 2026 and commission an audit by an outside firm “to ensure that the school executes on promised improvements,” according to the department.

If investigators find more violations, the department could revoke federal student aid programs and pursue administrative sanctions against Liberty, it stated.

The $14 million fine is the largest ever under the Clery Act, according to the department.

MORE: Facing Title IX investigation, Christian university lets pregnant students stay in dorms

IMAGE: Katherine Welles/Shutterstock

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

Please join the conversation about our stories on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, MeWe, Rumble, Gab, Minds and Gettr.

About the Author
College Fix contributor Andi Shae Napier is a student at Liberty University where she is studying journalism and digital media. She also writes news and feature stories for the Liberty Champion.