The University of Montana isn’t just facing a nearly $1 million fine for “inaccurate and misleading” campus crime statistics.
The U.S. Department of Education also is requiring the university to fix internal problems that influence campus safety, including some that directly led to misreported data.
In a December 2017 letter, the Department identified seven findings in a review of UM’s compliance with the Jeanne Clery Act. The letter noted the law is “based on the premise that students and employees are entitled to accurate and honest information about the realities of crime and other threats to their personal safety and the security of their property.”
UM is appealing the $966,614 penalty announced last month, and UM officials said they are addressing the findings in the letter. But work remains.
In an interview this week, UM officials discussed the steps they have taken to improve safety and their interest in continuing to make the Missoula campus the safest in the nation, a goal stated by UM President Seth Bodnar.
"We will continue to seek best practices and build our Clery program to fully comply with the Clery Act but, more importantly, to ensure a safe campus for all," said UM communications director Paula Short in an email following the interview.
Although the Education Department issued its letter last December and levied fines last month, the review period ran from 2009 to 2012. In an email, the department said the lag time was due to the agency's priorities.
"The issuance of the notice was impacted by the Department's workload and competing priorities," the email said.
The department required UM to develop a corrective action plan. UM Police Capt. Ben Gladwin said the university submitted a response to the audit of more than 3,000 pages. The response included corrective items, and Gladwin said UM maintains a list of actions it must take on a monthly basis to remain in compliance.
Short said some failings the Education Department identified have been simple to address. For instance, the department requires annual campus safety reports to include fire statistics and safety policies, and UM has since done so.
Other compliance matters are a work in progress. For example, the department cited UM for its "lack of administrative capability" and said its Clery program "evidenced a lack of supervisory oversight," with "relevant personnel … largely unaware of their obligations."
The letter said senior administrators withheld pertinent information from the campus staff member formerly appointed as the Clery compliance officer.
In 2012, the UM president appointed its associate legal counsel to oversee Clery compliance. That individual has since transitioned out of the role, and Short said a team is working on compliance and evaluating structures to determine the best model going forward; currently, though, UM does not have a lead employee tapped to oversee compliance.
UM also failed to identify staff members responsible for campus security and “substantially failed” to collect crime reports from them, the letter said. In some cases, those "Campus Security Authorities'' didn’t even know their obligations, and the letter said their lack of training “substantially contributed” to incorrect crime classifications.
Much work has taken place in this regard. Gladwin, who provided a list of campus CSAs and trainings held, said the university requires mandatory education for some CSAs, such as those in athletics. It makes training voluntary for others. Chief Marty Ludemann said an estimated 360 to 380 campus staff may be deemed CSAs at any given time.
They include coaches, resident assistants, all law enforcement officers, advisers to the Associated Students of the University of Montana, and transit supervisors. According to the Clery Center, they're individuals "with significant responsibility for campus and student activities."
The Clery Act doesn't require the trainings. Gladwin estimated that less than half of the CSAs who aren’t required to attend trainings do so, but he said UM is considering making training mandatory for all CSAs.
Generally, he said he has seen a sea change in the roles CSAs play on campus. When he first started at UM in 2003, he said Clery compliance was not part of his law enforcement training, but now, CSAs voluntarily call his office to discuss compliance issues.
"In my mind, that's a huge shift," said Gladwin, who oversees the daily coordination of Clery activities.
The letter also cited UM for "failure to issue timely warnings in accordance with federal regulations." The Clery Act requires campuses to "inform the campus community of crimes considered to be a threat to students and employees," and to do so in a timely fashion.
In this regard, Short said UM has made significant strides, but she also said situations are "highly nuanced" and decisions aren't always straightforward.
One improvement the campus has made is to identify relevant audiences, she said. In other words, if people at Bitterroot College need to hear about an emergency, she said UM can send a discrete group an alert, but not bombard others who might not be affected.
Gladwin helped develop a decision matrix that guides authorities through determining whether a situation merits an alert. But cases aren't black and white, and Chief Ludemann offered an example of a time UM waited 24 hours to send an alert.
He said he "got beat up" over the lack of timeliness. However, in that "stranger rape," he said the rapist told the victim he would call her within 24 hours and identify himself. Ludemann said the victim wanted to see if he would call, and investigators believed they would impede the investigation if they sent an alert that the perpetrator himself saw.
"We waited the 24 hours to see if he called. We felt we owed that to the victim," Ludemann said. The call didn't happen, but the team believes they made the right decision.
In another case, Gladwin said an announcement about a male harassing people with sexual comments led to more reports from victims who originally thought they were alone in being targeted. He said the additional reports meant investigators were able to get a better description of the suspect and his patterns of behavior, which had escalated to fondling.
Campus police shared the description with city police, and when city police received reports that sounded like the same suspect, law enforcement launched surveillance and caught the perpetrator in the act, Gladwin said. He said they were able to hold the offender accountable for campus crimes due in part to the original alert.
Clery Center interim Executive Director Abigail Boyer said different institutions build different teams to oversee Clery compliance, and different approaches work.
"The structure can really vary across campuses, but it's really looking at (whether) we have a documented system for looking at the whole of Clery and not just one specific part," Boyer said.
When it comes to compliance, she said, "leadership buy-in is incredibly critical." At UM, Bodnar has stressed the importance of safety for students and said he wants UM to be the safest campus in the nation.
In particular, Boyer said the role of the CSAs is “absolutely critical,” and training helps those staff members know their obligations. Case studies are helpful tools, she said, and campuses that can't do in-person training have been creative in using free online education.
"At a minimum, you want to make sure the CSAs walk away knowing who they are, knowing what they need to share, and knowing how to share it," Boyer said.
Next week, several team members from UM head to a Clery training, as they did last year, and Short said she is interested in learning from campuses that have demonstrated success in compliance.
In the meantime, she said UM has a team of people meeting monthly to work on compliance, and the campus continues to make improvements. She also noted staff members working on Clery activities are different than they were during the review period that started nearly a decade ago.
"It's not to say that we're done, but I feel like we've done a lot already," Short said.