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USA News

Liberty University hit with record $14m fine for violating federal law on reporting campus crimes

by Tola Mbakwe

Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the US has been slapped with a record $14m (£11m) fine for violating a federal law that mandates schools to report sexual assaults and other campus crimes.

According to an announcement by the US Education Department, the penalty is the largest ever imposed under the Clery Act and comes in conjunction with a 108-page report highlighting how the Lynchburg, Virginia-based school repeatedly misclassified and failed to disclose crimes on its campus from 2016 through 2023.

Federal investigators discovered that the university had prematurely dismissed several allegations of sexual offences as unfounded, "including rape and fondling cases," which deterred some victims from reporting these incidents to the university.

The report stated that the university's failure to "meet its agreed-upon regulatory responsibilities in numerous and serious ways" led to "real harm to members of the campus community" and demonstrated a "lack of institutional control."

Liberty University has been embroiled in multiple controversies recently. In 2021, it sued its former president, Jerry Falwell Jr, son of the founder, for $30m (£23.4m) for allegedly undermining its moral standards by concealing his wife's affair with a pool attendant who attempted extortion.

In the same year, twelve plaintiffs known as "Jane Doe" sued Liberty over ongoing safety concerns and re-victimisation following reports of sexual violence, according to Tuesday's Education Department report.

Falwell Jr resigned from leadership positions in 2020 amidst allegations about his links to Michael Cohen, Trump's convicted lawyer; directing a $1.2m (£937,000) piece of university property towards his personal trainer; and years-long disparagement of students, staff and parents in emails to Liberty administrators.

As fallout from the Education Department findings, Liberty has agreed to allocate $2m (£1.5m) over the next two years towards on-campus safety improvements and compliance enhancements. These measures will undergo auditing by an external firm and monitoring by the department.

The department warned that further violations of federal crime-reporting law "could jeopardize the terms of the university's participation in the federal student aid programmes or result in other administrative sanctions."

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