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A scenic shot of the Liberty University campus.

The Department of Education levied a $14 million fine against Liberty University for campus crime-reporting issues.

Edward Palm/Getty Images

The Department of Education hit Liberty University with a $14 million fine after a lengthy investigation found that the evangelical Virginia institution failed to comply with federal campus crime-reporting requirements and administrators discouraged victims from coming forward, ED officials announced Tuesday.

It’s the largest fine on record for violations of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security and Campus Crime Statistics Act, according to Office of Federal Student Aid officials.

As part of a settlement agreement with the department, Liberty will also spend $2 million on campus safety improvements and compliance enhancements, according to a news release. Liberty will be on postreview monitoring through April 2026 “to ensure that the school executes on promised improvements,” the Department of Education announced Tuesday.

While Liberty officials have acknowledged the settlement agreement, administrators claim the university was treated unfairly, echoing the sentiments of conservative lawmakers. A Liberty spokesperson also said the university has remedied the safety issues that prompted the fine.

The Investigation

The action officially marks an end to a Department of Education investigation that began in 2022. It was prompted by lawsuits brought in 2021 by more than two dozen defendants who claimed that Liberty discouraged sexual assault victims from reporting abuses by weaponizing its honor code against them. They also alleged that the university imposed disciplinary consequences for infractions such as drinking alcohol and engaging in premarital sex while failing to hold alleged offenders accountable. Liberty settled with multiple litigants—a mix of former students and employees—before the ED investigation concluded.

The investigation also found that Liberty systematically underreported complaints about crime, did not have adequate resources for investigating complaints, neglected to warn the campus about bomb threats and gas leaks, failed to report a stalking incident involving a student athlete who continued to play, retaliated against an employee who raised Clery Act concerns, and erased evidence related to the Department of Education investigation.

“Students, faculty, and staff deserve to know that they can be safe and secure in their school communities. We respond aggressively to complaints about campus safety and security,” Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid, said in a statement. “Through the Clery Act schools are obligated to take action that creates safe and secure campus communities, investigate complaints, and responsibly disclose information about crimes and other safety concerns. We will continue to hold schools accountable if they fail to do so.”

The department also charged Liberty with a “lack of administrative capability” to comply with the 1990 Clery Act, noting that for years the university’s police department assigned a single officer to review reported crimes, including sexual assault.

Liberty acknowledged the fine in a response to Inside Higher Ed. Spokesperson Ryan Helfenbein said by email that the university has spent “more than $10 million in significant advancements since 2022, in areas including corrective measures, educational programming, new leadership and staffing, infrastructure, and facilities in order to focus on compliance and ensure strong and sustainable Title IX and Clery Act programs,” adding that LU is committed to campus safety.

He acknowledged Liberty’s shortcomings.

“The university concurs there were numerous deficiencies that existed in the past,” Helfenbein wrote. “Examples include incorrect statistical reports as well as necessary timely warnings and emergency notifications that were not sent. We acknowledge and sincerely regret past program deficiencies and have since corrected these errors with great care and concern.”

But he also claimed Liberty was subject to unjust scrutiny by the Department of Education.

“In the report, many of the department’s methodologies, findings, and calculations were drastically different from their historic treatment of other universities,” Helfenbein said. “Liberty disagrees with this approach and maintains that we have repeatedly endured selective and unfair treatment by the department.”

A Historic Fine

Rumors that the university would be hit with a historic financial penalty have swirled in Liberty circles for months. And in October, after journalists obtained preliminary findings from the Department of Education, Liberty president Dondi Costin took to Fox News to express outrage over the leak. In that interview, Costin claimed that the Department of Education was threatening Liberty with a $37.5 million fine.

Some five months later, the fine came in at $14 million.

Though lower than some observers expected, the fine far surpasses the previous records set by Pennsylvania State University, which paid $2.4 million in 2016 related to the sexual abuse of children, and Michigan State University, which paid $4.5 million in 2019 over former doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual assault of hundreds of women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.

The Education Department declined to discuss the specifics of how they reached the settlement amount.

“The fine that’s imposed is a result of extensive review of the underlying facts here and an assessment of the harm and an appropriate remedy,” said a Department of Education official, speaking on background. The official added that the penalty “is more than triple the largest fine ever imposed for violations of the Clery Act. And we think it sends a strong message today that these are serious matters that schools need to handle appropriately, and Liberty failed to do so.”

Department officials also noted the maximum penalty for each Clery Act violation—currently $69,733—is set by Congress.

Strong Reactions

News of the historic fine generated strong reactions.

Save 71, a group of outspoken alumni who advocate for reform at Liberty, wrote on social media that Liberty “systematically lied about crime on campus while claiming to be one of the safest schools in America.” The post noted that Costin was borrowing from the playbook of former LU president Jerry Falwell Jr. (who left in 2020) when he claimed the university was being persecuted.

Reached by Inside Higher Ed via telephone, Falwell Jr. declined to comment.

Chelsea Andrews, one of the plaintiffs who sued Liberty over how it handled sexual assault, expressed disappointment in the settlement in a message to Inside Higher Ed. Andrews, a 2015 graduate, suggested that not all of Liberty’s issues were out in the open, given “there’s so much [the Department of Education] didn’t say.” Andrews added that she is currently awaiting a response from the department’s Office for Civil Rights on an outstanding complaint against Liberty.

“I’m not going away until Liberty makes serious changes, by fine or by force,” Andrews said.

Robert G. Callahan, an attorney for Andrews, struck a similar tone.

“Today the department publicly affirms what brave women have been saying in the face of incredible criticism. We take particular interest in findings substantiating claims that the university attempted to wipe evidence from its digital records and hide information related to its crime statistics,” Callahan wrote in a text message.

Of the three House Republicans—Virginia Foxx, James Comer and Bob Good (a former Liberty employee)—who raised concerns about the hefty fine in January and sought more information on ED’s investigation, only Foxx responded to a request for comment from Inside Higher Ed.

“This administration’s intentional destruction of religious freedom protections is abhorrent,” she said in a statement sent by a spokesperson. “Due process shouldn’t fluctuate based off religious or political backgrounds. The committee will continue to protect religious liberty including ensuring fair treatment for religious institutions.”

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