Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) last week floated the idea of scrapping the Clery Act, a two-decade-old campus safety law. Speaking on Thursday at the Campus Safety National Forum in Washington, D.C., McCaskill reportedly said the Clery Act "doesn't accomplish squat."
The Clery Act, which became law in 1990, requires colleges and universities to accurately track and disclose specific crimes that are reported to the school, and to issue emergency campus safety alerts. Breaking the law can result in a $35,000 fine per violation.
"I don't need to tell you it's flawed," McCaskill told the audience, according to Campus Safety magazine. "To be honest with you, I am OK removing the Clery Act completely."
For more than a year, McCaskill has spearheaded an effort alongside Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to push a bill, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, that would add new rules for how colleges handle sexual violence.
McCaskill wasn't immediately available to clarify her remarks, but her office said she doesn't favor completely absolving colleges from documenting crime data.
"Claire has been critical of Clery, but she is absolutely in favor of continuing to gather crime statistics that are actionable, and virtually everyone agrees that Clery statistics are not," McCaskill spokeswoman Sarah Feldman told The Huffington Post. "She believes the ideal solution is gathering crime statistics in accordance with how the rest of the federal government gathers that information, combined with the climate surveys her legislation, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, requires."
Clery stats have been criticized because of the complicated nature of what they report -- since sexual violence is an underreported crime, higher documented numbers are considered a good sign that student feel comfortable reporting. Similarly, high alcohol and drug arrests may signal more usage, or more enforcement.
But advocates oppose scrapping the law altogether.
On Monday, the Clery Center for Security on Campus issued a brief open letter saying it was "disappointed" in McCaskill's comments about the Clery Act.
"While, like any longstanding law, the Clery Act could benefit from modernization and a thoughtful review, wholesale repeal or indiscriminate cuts would be a step backwards not forward," S. Daniel Carter, a longtime safety advocate, told HuffPost Tuesday in an email. Carter is the director of 32 National Campus Safety Initiative at VTV Family Outreach Foundation, a nonprofit born out of the Virginia Tech tragedy.
Virginia Tech was fined $55,000 for failing to warn students in a "timely manner" in 2007 when Cho Seung-Hui, 23, shot and killed two people at a residence hall. He went on to massacre 30 people two hours later on campus. The university paid a lowered fine in 2014.
Higher education institutions have long complained about conflicts between the Clery Act and Title IX, the gender equity law requiring colleges to investigate reports of sexual assault. A May letter from Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, which represents university presidents, complained that should CASA be enacted into law, colleges may not be consulted in resolving conflicts between Clery, Title IX and new legal mandates.
Recent amendments to the Clery Act, which fully go into effect Wednesday under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, require colleges to conduct prevention programming on campus, track and disclose reports of domestic violence and stalking, and provide additional rights to complainants and respondents in sexual assault adjudications.
Tyler Kingkade covers higher education at The Huffington Post, based in New York. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.