Penn State has received a preliminary report from the federal government regarding whether its handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal complied with campus crime reporting requirements, the university said Monday.
The school said the U.S. Department of Education was not permitted under the law to release information about the report at this time, but that details can be made public after the federal agency finishes its review and makes a final determination. Given the report's preliminary nature - and the university's potential to reshape it - no one was rushing to share the initial findings.
Pennsylvania prosecutors have alleged that high-ranking university officials failed to properly report suspected abuse of children by Sandusky, a retired assistant football coach who was convicted a year ago of 45 counts of child sexual abuse.
Penn State said school officials have given federal reviewers access to the records and information they have requested to see whether the school complied with a 1990 U.S. law called the Clery Act. The law, named for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman who was raped and killed in a campus residence hall in 1986, requires universities to publish annual reports and maintain a daily crime log.
Violations of the law can result in a school losing its authority to offer federal student aid, and although that has never happened, the nature of the allegations against Penn State was unprecedented and had many of the school's strongest allies concerned. The Education Department has leveled fines, however, of up to $27,500 per violation.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in student aid could be at stake. In the year that ended June 30, 2012, Penn State benefited from $577 million in direct federal loans, $85 million in Pell and Teach grants and $16 million in work-study and Perkins loans.
“The department can impose fairly substantial fines but they have never elected to take student financial aid away from current students because the institution failed to act in the past. I think that's very unlikely,” said Terry Hartle, a top official with colleges' lobbying operation at the American Council on Education.
And don't expect clarity by the time students return to campus this fall, he added. The Education Department took more than four years to complete its report after the Virginia Tech shooting and this one will similarly be decided slowly and behind the scenes.
“By definition, this process is expected to be confidential. It's in everybody's interest that this is the case,” Hartle said. “Neither institution wants this process to be taking place in public.”
The university said it has hired a full-time employee to help it comply with the Clery Act.
The contents of the Education Department's report were closely held. The law that governs the review process prescribes secrecy ahead of the report's final draft.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are expected to heavily pressure the Education Department once the findings become public. Given the school's high profile in Pennsylvania and the potential impact of the Education Department's report, lawmakers are expected to consult with officials on what penalties could be prescribed for the university.
Sandusky is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence and maintains his innocence.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for this month for the three former Penn State administrators accused of a criminal conspiracy, allegedly covering up complaints about Sandusky mistreating boys. Former president Graham Spanier, retired athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz all deny the allegations.