WASHINGTON – The Education Department is investigating whether Pennsylvania State University failed to report incidents of sexual abuse on campus, as required by federal law, the department announced Wednesday.
Colleges and universities must report the number of crimes on campus and provide warnings in a timely manner if safety is threatened.
The university’s former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, has been charged with molesting eight boys in 15 years. Some of the abuse allegedly occurred in the university’s football complex.
Two university officials were arrested on charges they failed to notify authorities after being told about an incident and have since been pushed out. Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, a vice president, have maintained they are innocent, as has Sandusky.
The announcement by the federal agency comes the same day that the university’s longtime football coach, Joe Paterno, announced he was retiring in the wake of the scandal. He is not a part of the criminal investigation.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement that schools and school officials have a legal and moral responsibility to protect children and young people from violence and abuse.
“If these allegations of sexual abuse are true, then this is a horrible tragedy for those young boys,” Duncan said. “If it turns out that some people at the school knew of the abuse and did nothing or covered it up, that makes it even worse.”
The Office of Financial Aid is conducting the investigation. The Office of Civil Rights also is considering whether it should investigate.
The investigation is being conducted under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. Under the act, the maximum fine per violation found is $27,500. While the potential fines are not hefty, institutions do not like to have such a black mark on their record. Virginia Tech University is still appealing a fine it was levied in connection to a 2007 shooting rampage on its campus.
University officials were notified of the investigation Wednesday by letter, according to the Education Department.
A university spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an e-mail and phone call seeking comment on Wednesday evening.