- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Iowa State University was out of compliance with federal law for years because of the limited way students were informed about sexual assaults and other crimes on campus, internal auditors have concluded.

The school’s recently abandoned practice of posting “crime alerts” on the campus police website didn’t meet the requirements of the Clery Act, according to a June 17 report from the Office of Internal Audit. The audit told administrators in Ames that they must issue the warnings through mass emails and other formats that do not require students and employees to search out the information.

“Continuing the practice of using website postings only for timely warnings would prevent effective notification of ongoing threats to the campus community,” auditors warned in the report, released Tuesday in response to a request from The Associated Press.

The report said school officials would develop new guidelines for when and how to issue warnings in accordance with the Clery Act, which requires schools to report crime data and warn about crimes that happen on campus.

The U.S. Department of Education has recently increased enforcement of the law, and universities face up to $35,000 fines per violation and additional sanctions.

University lawyer Keith Bystrom said Wednesday that ISU started sending warnings in mass emails in the spring, after auditors identified the problem during a routine review. He said posting the information online wasn’t meant to hide crime reports, noting that news outlets knew where to look and helped publicize them.

“It was an issue that we changed really as quickly as it came to our attention that it was problematic under Clery,” he said. “It was there. But it just didn’t come right into your email.”

The Board of Regents is expected to be briefed on the report next week in Ames. It is one of two audit reports with a “red-light” warning out of 20 given to the board, which means it involves legal issues that “could result in serious consequences” if changes aren’t implemented. Auditors will review the university’s response in November.

The law has also been a challenge for Iowa’s two other public universities.

The U.S. Department of Education fined the University of Northern Iowa $110,000 last year for violations uncovered during an earlier review, which showed the school failed to compile and disclose accurate crime statistics and failed to adequately distribute a required annual security report.

The University of Iowa changed its practice last year to issue timely warnings more often through mass emails. While some students praised the school for encouraging reporting crimes, the school’s warnings contributed to protests in the spring against the administration’s handling of sexual assault. Some regents criticized President Sally Mason, who responded with a plan to crack down on sexual assault.

At Iowa State, the recent audit warned the university had no “systematic process” to identify and train employees to report crimes to police as required by the Clery Act. The school also had no single person responsible for compliance and no written procedures for compiling criminal statistics, preparing the annual security report and updating the crime log.

Bystrom said the school has created a new team responsible for compliance, is identifying and training mandatory reporters this fall and is working to develop a procedural manual for compliance. He said he was glad the problems could be corrected before federal intervention.

“Going into the audit, we knew that there were deficiencies,” he said. “We appreciated the audit helping us focus on the most important of those to correct.”


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