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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Flawed crime reporting puts Roxbury Community College federal funding at risk

Published: September 28, 2012
Section: News

Roxbury College has recently come under fire due in part to a Department of Education probe regarding failures to comply with the Clery Act, a federal law mandating the annual reporting on crime statistics, according to a Boston Globe story this week. All colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs face significant penalties for failing to report, including but not limited to suspension of federal financial aid.

In 2010, a former student came forward and reported that she had been sexually assaulted by one of her former instructors. When Roxbury next published its crime report, there was no mention of the accusation in the list of serious allegations at the college.

An internal audit found that the school had not only failed to produce annual reports on crime policies, as required by law, but upon further review, also could not locate crime logs from 2003 to 2007.

When the Department of Education began its probe, five personnel files that were specifically requested were unavailable. While the file related to the 2010 sexual assault allegation has recently been found, the other files are currently regarded as missing. Among the missing files include the file on a professor accused of sexual harassment by a student and a staff member, who in the end was wrongly accused of statutory rape, The Globe reported.

The consequences of failing to comply to federal law have only begun to be felt by Roxbury Community College. In June, then-president Terrence Gomes, during whose 11-year tenure there were no reported sexual assaults, stepped down after the state auditor’s began their own investigation. On Tuesday the first meeting of the school’s new board of trustees drew approximately 40 people for the public discussion portion of the meeting.

At the board of trustees meeting, human resources director Paul Alexander made two significant announcements: The school’s search for a new facilities and security chief remains ongoing as they search for someone experienced with federal crime statistics reporting. Additionally, the school is continuing to work toward compliance.

Since finding the file, the contents have been forwarded to the Department of Education—long after it was requested. Regarding the room the file was found in, an electronic security system has been installed. Finding the file after numerous failures was, “kind of the last straw,” Alexander said.

On the same day as the meeting, Roxbury Community College was awarded $35,517 from a new fund established by the state Board of Higher Education. While Roxbury was awarded funds, the amount was far below the totals given to the state’s other community colleges that also won funds. Among the other awarded colleges, the average grant was $193,002 and the lowest grant other than that given to Roxbury was for $88,000, more than double Roxbury’s grant.

In a move that might be related to the smaller-than-average grant, Roxbury Community College’s budget director announced that budgets for everything other than grants were to be cut by 5.4 percent. The reasons for the cut were not announced, according to The Boston Globe, and sources attributed the announcement to unusually low enrollment. The projected headcount for the current semester was off by six percent, with enrollment being measured at 2,674 students.

Currently it appears to be a coincidence that the grant was so small compared to the other institutions. In an interview with The Globe, Commissioner of Higher Education Richard Freeland explained that grant request had all been evaluated on their merits, and while other factors were taken into account, such factors typically had to do with unusual challenges that were experienced by some community colleges.

On the topic of the June departure of former president Gomes, the board held discussions on their plans to form a presidential search committee. With the current turmoil, Roxbury Community College will be the first public college in state history to choose a president since the new laws implemented in July took effect.

Under the new laws, the Board of Higher Education can appoint a member to the search committee with the power to implement “strong search guidelines.”