University won't appeal crime records ruling
Southwest Missouri State University regents voted unanimously March 15 not to appeal the landmark federal decision that opens campus crime records to the public.
After two hours of closed-door discussion, the Board of Regents announced it would not try to overturn the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Russell G. Clark that the so-called Buckley Amendment to the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act did not permit a school to withhold information about campus crime (E&P, March 16, 1991).
However, a spokesman for the federal Department of Education hinted broadly that the agency itself may appeal the decision.
The DoE spokesman also denied rumors that the department lobbied the Southwest Missouri regents to appeal the decision.
In announcing they would not appeal, the regents also took the occasion to deny vigorously that the university's previous refusal to release crime reports to the student newspaper was an attempt to cover up the incidents.
"I can tell you today that to imply that this board of regents at any time in any of its actions was trying to |cover up' something that we did not want the general public to know because it was improper or unethical or immoral is completely false," regents board vice president Jack Miller said in a prepared statement.
However, in his opinion, Judge Clark wrote, "Concerning the factual allegation that defendants have a history of concealing incidents of crime occurring on campus, there was credible testimony that, in the past, SMSU has concealed or destroyed evidence of contraband and failed or refused to release selected criminal investigation and incident reports concerning sex offenses, student athletes and university personnel."
Paul Kincaid, the director of university relations, said crime reports will be made available on a daily basis to news organizations and others who put on file an ongoing Requests for Documents form, as required by the Missouri sunshine law.
"We will try to streamline the process so incident reports are available on a daily basis in the security office to media organizations which have an ongoing Request for Documents on file. Our intent is to follow the court order and to cooperate with media in every way possible," Kincaid said.
It was Kincaid who touched off the controversy over the Buckley Amendment when, during last school year, he refused to release verbatim crime reports to the Southwest Standard student paper.
Standard editor Traci Bauer sued in a case that was supported by several free press organizations, and bank-rolled by the Society of Professional Journalists.
Paul McMasters, the USA Today deputy editorial director who chairs SPJ's Freedom of Information committee, said the organization has so far spent between $5,000 and $6,000 on the case.
"Judge Clark struck a real blow against crime on campus," McMasters said. "All those potential victims of crime on campus really owe a debt to Traci Bauer."
In his decision, Clark ruled that campus crime reports are not educational records protected from public disclosure by the Buckley Amendment. …