A joint investigation from The Columbus Dispatch and the Student Press Law Center of Arlington, VA has found that a number of campus judicial systems often hand out light punishments for severe crimes, including sexual assault, physical assaults that end in serious injuries, robberies, and other such violent crimes.
Some of those punishments are as light as simply writing a paper.
Campus disciplinary boards are used across the country to judge those accused of crimes and to pass along punishments. Sometimes, those crimes are handled completely at the school level without informing the police. Most cases will never go to court.
Both victims and those accused of the crimes have reported feeling that the system is broken and unfair.
According to the investigation, most schools are not aware of, or refuse to follow, federal and state laws that require certain records pertaining to these cases to be made public.
The student privacy law, enforced by the US Department of Education, is often used incorrectly to not allow access to the records. Even the law’s author has criticized the improper use.
Despite the feelings of being in an actual court during these campus-conduct board hearings, those who participate are college administrators, students and faculty volunteers – not lawyers. It is not uncommon for participants to have little or no legal training.
The investigation looked into the disciplinary records of 110 colleges, including 13 public universities in Ohio, for cases involving violent crimes.
Although federal student-privacy rules do allow colleges to release the names of students found responsible for their crimes, almost 75% did not offer any documents for the investigation. This held true even in states that have open-records laws requiring them to make such information publicly available.
Of the 25 colleges that did offer records, students were found guilty of violent crimes in a total of 1,970 cases since 2010. Of those, 152 students were expelled. Five students found guilty of sexual assaults were not punished through suspension, expulsion or even probation.
Criminal charges were only seen in 7 cases of the 158 involving sexual assault.
Once made aware of the investigation, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said an investigation will be performed by his office of the training that members of student disciplinary boards must go through in the state’s public universities.
He did admit that he has noticed in his past role as county prosecutor that schools all too often did not report criminal allegations to the police.
“To me, as a parent who has sent eight different children to college, what I expect is a safe environment,” said DeWine, whose office serves as both the state’s chief law-enforcement agency and as the attorney for Ohio’s public universities. “I expect those who have knowledge of something that would indicate it’s not safe to make that public, and certainly to notify the students and to notify the parents of the students.”