Campus Crime

Rapes, murders, burglaries, hate and other crimes occurring on college campuses must be annually reported to the U.S. government. That's a public relations nightmare for college administrators and admissions staff. You won't hear much about campus crime from them. Searching college websites for "campus crime" or "Clery Act" or "burglaries," rarely finds any information either.

Security On Campus, Inc., a non-profit organization founded by the parents of Jeanne Clery, who was murdered in her dorm room, offers a gateway to the numbers. (See Clery Act website).

According to the website: "The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act is the landmark federal law, originally known as the Campus Security Act, that requires colleges and universities across the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. Because the law is tied to participation in federal student financial aid programs it applies to most institutions of higher education both public and private. It is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education." The Department publishes official statistics on campus crime. (See DOE campus crime statistics).

Isn't campus safety an important enough issue for publishers to discuss it with administrators and include the statistics in their guidebooks? It doesn't appear so.

Most college guidebooks draw all of their statistical information from the Common Data Set Initiative. The Initiative's members, college administrators and publishers, agree on what information colleges should make public. The guidebooks' generally chirpy tones reflect that publishers' are satisfied with transmitting college PR materials. A brief review of some of these guidebooks illustrates the absence of hard information on campus security.

The Princeton Review's The Best 357 Colleges: 2005 Edition completely ignores the details of campus crime in any of its topics. One might think they'd discuss the Clery Statistics with administrators, but that doesn't seem to be the case. In a review of the University of Pennsylvania, an urban campus, it bubbles: "One senior notes that the neighborhood has changed dramatically – for the better – over the last four years." The admissions staff couldn’t have worded it better. Ok, it's improved, but how is it now?

Don't expect much more from the College Board’s 2006 College Handbook. If campus crime is not in the Common Data Set, it’s not reported. Two paragraphs on campus safety note: "You can also obtain a copy of the campus's crime report .. from the administrative offices." It's a grudging reference. They make no effort to describe the data, nor to mention how to access the reports online.

Barron's Profiles of American Colleges 2005, in a section entitled "Parting Words," offers a number of questions for prospective students to think over when choosing a college. Question 13 is: "Safety on Campus. Are the dorms secure and locked? What’s the safety system on campus?" Too bad the question wasn't raised earlier and dealt with in the book. Their college descriptions simply repackage the same Common Data Set information that everyone else uses.

The jacket of the Yale Daily News Staff's The Insiders Guide to the Colleges 2007 announces somewhat presumptuously: "students on campus tell you what you really want to know." Clearly I don't want to know about undergraduates' LSAT scores or anything about campus crime, for they're not mentioned. Similar to the Princeton Review's chirpy PR tone, this guidebook reports: "Some students are concerned for their safety in the local community, but most people agree that safety in the area has 'really improved recently'." That, of course ducks the issue of just how bad it was before.

Academia purports to nurture open discussions, protecting the holders of unpopular opinions with tenure and championing reasoned debate. College administrators appear, however, to have little interest in providing the public with information on campus crime.