Despite objections from some trustees, Pennsylvania State University said Friday that it would accept and pay a record $2.4 million in fines the U.S. Department of Education levied this month for hiding or failing to properly classify and report campus crime.
The fines cover violations from 1998 - when the first complaint surfaced that Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused boys - through 2011, when the former assistant football coach was indicted, and onetime university officials then were accused of conspiring to cover up his abuse. But many violations had nothing to do with Sandusky, sex crimes, or the athletic program.
Penn State had until Friday to accept the department's sanction or challenge it. Despite disagreeing with some findings, it decided not to contest them.
"We have accepted the fines and will continue to focus on our ongoing Clery compliance," the university said in a statement. "It is Penn State's goal to not only meet the standards articulated by the Department of Education, as we believe we currently do, but to set a new standard for Clery compliance in higher education."
The Clery Act is a federal law that requires colleges and universities to disclose crimes reported on or near their campuses and warn students about potential threats.
A university spokeswoman said the fine would be covered by the university's general fund and would not impact tuition rates.
Trustees William Oldsey and Anthony Lubrano said they, as well as other alumni-elected trustees, thought the university should have appealed the ruling to see whether the fine could be reduced, even a little. They were concerned about portions of the department's 239-page report that seemed to rely on information contained in the investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that blamed former university officials for covering up Sandusky's crimes. Alumni trustees have been critical of the Freeh report and its conclusions.
"I advocated for us at least to review things more carefully and at least consider the appeal," said Oldsey, who wrote a letter to Penn State president Eric Barron on Wednesday making that request.
But Barron wrote back later Wednesday, he said, explaining why the university would stick to the legal subcommittee's decision not to appeal. The university spokeswoman declined to elaborate beyond the statement.
"Given the magnitude of the fine, we owed it to ourselves to sit down with the department and review" the findings, Lubrano said. "In the end, what would it have cost us to do that?"
Even if the effort only saved a few hundred thousand dollars, it would have been worth it, he said.
The university has emphasized its efforts to overhaul campus safety and governance regulations since Sandusky was charged, including appointing an administrator to oversee compliance and training thousands of employees on the law.
In its report, the largest investigation of its kind in scope, the department cited 11 areas of violations of the Clery Act.
For instance, regulators found that the university failed to report 40 crimes to the Education Department in 2011, the bulk of them drug-abuse and liquor-law violations. It also was faulted for failing to produce adequate security and fire-safety reports, issue timely warnings in other cases, establish an adequate system for collecting crime statistics, and maintain an accurate and complete daily crime log.
The largest portion of the fine - about $2.1 million - was for failure to properly classify reported incidents and disclose crime statistics from 2008 to 2011.
Only $27,500 of the fine was directly related to the handling of the Sandusky case, unquestionably the highest-profile crime on campus. In their report, education officials cited the claim that senior Penn State administrators knew Sandusky was a suspected sexual predator and never warned the community.
"In short, a man who was about to be charged with violent crimes against defenseless minors was free to roam the Penn State campus, as he pleased," an administrator wrote in a letter to Barron.
Three former university administrators, including ex-president Graham B. Spanier, are awaiting trial on accusations they covered up or ignored the crimes. Each has pleaded not guilty.
The previous record fine under Clery was $357,500 imposed on Eastern Michigan University. Under a settlement, the university paid $350,000.
The Clery Act, which became law in 1990, is named after Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered in her dorm room at Lehigh University in 1986.