Liberty University Fined $14 Million for Mishandling Sex Assaults and Other Crimes

Liberty University, the evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., agreed to pay a record $14 million fine for breaking federal campus safety laws, the Education Department announced on Tuesday, accusing the school of creating a “culture of silence” that discouraged the reporting of crimes and repeatedly mishandling sexual assaults.

In a 108-page report, the department found particular problems with how the university handled sexual misconduct, including that it had punished several sexual assault victims for violating the student honor code, which prohibits premarital sex, while failing to punish their assailants. As a result, sexual assaults commonly went unreported, the department said.

The report also said Liberty discouraged staff members from sending out emergency notifications, failing to notify students of dangerous events such as campus bomb threats and gas leaks. And it accused the university of aggrandizing itself publicly as one of the safest colleges in the country while maintaining little data on campus crime and providing statistics it could not back up with official records.

The action is the latest blow to the standing of Liberty, which was founded by the conservative pastor and political activist Jerry Falwell Sr. and has grown into one of the country’s most prominent evangelical institutions, with a sprawling campus and an endowment of more than $2 billion. Mr. Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr., resigned as president in 2020 amid a sex scandal, and was sued by the university for $40 million in damages the next year for various breaches of contract.

The penalty on Tuesday, which dwarfed every previous fine the department had levied for such violations, is part of a settlement agreement with the university after a review by the department revealed “material and ongoing violations” of the Clery Act. The law requires that schools participating in federal financial aid programs report data on campus crime and support victims of sexual assault.

In addition to the fine, the university agreed to spend $2 million over two years to maintain a compliance committee and make campus safety improvements. The department said it would monitor the university until April 2026.

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