The amount was the maximum fine Tech faced for two violations of the federal Clery Act, which requires timely reporting of crimes on campus.
In announcing the fine Tuesday, department officials said the violation warranted a fine "far in excess" of $55,000.
Violations and fines are rare, with only a few dozen over the past two decades.
The department found in December that Virginia Tech violated the law when officials waited two hours to notify campus after a gunman shot two students in a dormitory early on April 16, 2007. He killed 30 others two hours later, just after the alert went out.
The university says it will appeal.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
VIRGINIA TECH RESPONSE TO DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION'S FINE
Virginia Tech to Appeal Department of Education Fine
Attribute to Larry Hincker, Associate Vice President for University Relations
BLACKSBURG, March 29, 2011 – The U.S. Department of Education has elected to levy a fine on the university for actions on the morning of April 16, 2007, which the Department of Education has ruled to be in violation of the Clery Act.
Virginia Tech respectfully disagrees and will appeal this action. As we noted before, neither the Department of Education nor the Clery Act defines “timely.” The university actions on April 16 were well within the standards and practices in effect at that time.
The department’s own compliance guidelines had illustrated 48 hours as an acceptable timely notification timeframe. Other Clery guidance, as well as industry practice, calls for notices to be released within several hours or days. Yet, from Department of Education’s new perspective, issuance of a campus notice two hours after a crime has been committed is too long. The higher education community has now been informed that timeliness is situational and will be determined by Department officials after the fact.
We believe that Virginia Tech administrators acted appropriately in their response to the tragic events of April 16, 2007, based on the best information then available to them at the time. These actions were validated by one of the nation’s most experienced campus law enforcement professionals, Dolores Stafford, a foremost expert on the Clery Act opined that the university notification did not violate the timely warning provision.
It appears the university is being held accountable for a new federal standard that was adopted after the April 2007 shootings. It is inconsistent with regulatory process or traditional jurisprudence to hold Virginia Tech to standards that did not exist at the time or, as portions of this report do, to hold Virginia Tech to a new Clery Act standard that was developed after – and in response to -- the tragic events that took place on our campus.
We provided to the department numerous examples of assaults and murders on other university campuses in which their campus notifications far exceeded in time Virginia Tech’s April 16 notice. Examples include:
o University of Portland May 2001: A student was killed in a dorm during summer session. An e-mail was sent out that evening, approximately eight hours after the incident.
o Tennessee State University 2005: A shooting occurred in the evening, and a mass e-mail was sent to the campus community the following morning.
o University of South Florida February 2006: A graduate student was shot at night, and no community crime alert was issued.
o Virginia Wesleyan College October 2006: A security officer was killed in the evening. The administration sent an e-mail the next morning to the college community.
o Norfolk State University March 2007: A student was stabbed. The campus community first learned about the incident through the media, and a campus-wide notification was not issued because it was considered an isolated event.
o University of Memphis October 2007: A student was shot, and a safety alert was issued the following day.
Also, in the Department of Education’s second finding they determined that issuance of the campus notice by the university communications office on the morning of April 16 rather than the university police department, which was actively engaged in a crime scene investigation, constitutes a violation of the law. We find it hard to comprehend that the campus communication office should not be responsible for communications when the police are engaged in a crime scene investigation.