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Brandeis, Waltham announce plans to improve safety of crosswalk where 3 students were struck

February 26, 2014 04:03 PM

Brandeis University and Waltham city officials have announced plans to try to improve the safety of a busy crosswalk on South Street where three students were hit by a car earlier this month.

Measures will include installing “rapid-flash beacons” that resemble police strobe lights at the crosswalk, a motion detection system to activate warning lights at the crosswalk that will eliminate the need for pedestrians to push a button, and spotlights above the crosswalk.

Officials said steps will also be taken to brighten existing street lighting in the area around the crosswalk.

“These enhancements will be made as quickly as possible in compliance with city policies and procedures and with regard to weather conditions and the possible need for temporary street closures,” the university said in an announcement this week.

Until the motion detection system is installed, larger signs will be hung at the crosswalk telling pedestrians to push the crosswalk light activation button.

On Sunday, Feb. 2, at about 6:25 p.m., three undergraduates were walking east in the crosswalk when they were struck by a car traveling north and driven by a 42-year-old man from Belmont, authorities have said.

The students were hospitalized with serious injuries, but were listed in stable condition later that night. A spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney’s office said this week that the matter remains under investigation.

A day after the incident, police and students told the Globe that the crosswalk, located on a city-controlled roadway that cuts through Brandeis’ campus, presents dangers for both pedestrians and drivers.

Neon yellow signs warn drivers in either direction to be cautious when approaching crosswalk, and pedestrians can push a button to activate flashing yellow lights before they cross.

But the crosswalk sits at the crest of a hill, and the street bends several times as it cuts through the university campus, reducing sight lines and reaction times for drivers and pedestrians.

Students can cross over South Street by using a pedestrian bridge a short distance away. But some students said the bridge can be inconvenient and a bit out of the way, depending on where they are coming from and going to on campus.

“The safety of our community is paramount, and Brandeis immediately took steps to reach out to the City of Waltham to address safety issues in the area,” the university said in a statement this week.

“We are grateful to the Waltham Police Department for their stepped-up enforcement of vehicle speed limits and crosswalk safety in the area, particularly around dusk, which have been very helpful in reinforcing to drivers and the Brandeis community that there is a need to exercise extreme caution in the area,” the statement added.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Brandeis students protest for university to lower executive pay

February 13, 2014 05:34 PM

More than a dozen Brandeis University students protested today calling for campus executive pay to be reduced.

Students who organized the protest pointed out that tuition has increased and budget cuts have been made in recent years at the school, which is facing a budgeted deficit of $6.5-million and recently began offering voluntary early retirement packages to about 150 employees.

Meanwhile, “[University] president Fred Lawrence and ex-President Jehuda Reinharz continue to make hundreds of thousands in salary and, in Reinharz’s case, millions post-retirement,” the group said in a press release.

“This is unacceptable,” the release added. “In order for Brandeis University to live up to its reputation as an aware and progressive institution, this injustice must be eliminated.”

Plans for the protest were arranged in part on a Facebook event page. The page listed 80 people who said they would attend the rally. The planned demonstration was also reported on earlier this week in school’s student newspaper, The Justice.

On Thursday afternoon, about 15 protesters braved a messy winter storm to rally outside of the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center, according to the Facebook event page.

The storm prompted the campus to close early, at 1:30 p.m., a half hour before the noon to 2 p.m. window organizers had planned to protest.

University spokeswoman Ellen de Graffenreid said in an email: “Brandeis supports students' right to protest. The culture of the university encourages debate, discussion, and a frank exchange of conflicting views. Student protests have been an important part of the university's commitment to free speech and expression since Brandeis' founding.”

Students said they plan to speak out on the issue “until tangible changes are made.”

Brandeis has been sharply criticized in recent months by students, faculty, alumni and others with ties to the university after a Globe report in November revealed that Reinharz has received millions from the school for part-time work since stepping down three years ago. That hefty compensation has been paid out amid tuition increases and budget cuts that included layoffs, reduced employee benefits and an aborted proposal to shut down the campus’ popular Rose Art Museum.

An online petition protesting Reinharz’s pay and calling on the university – which considers social justice central to its mission – to reform its executive pay practices has collected more than 1,700 signatures.

In response to the controversy, the university announced last month a series of policy changes designed to set a more open and fair process for determining executive compensation.

But student protesters on Thursday called for more change – specifically for the university to agree to lower executive pay in an effort to help lower student tuition rates.

“It was made clear with the recent statement of budget transparency on behalf of the administration that no steps have been taken toward significantly reducing executive pay in favor of reducing student tuition,” said the press release signed by organizers, Aaren Weiner, Elaine Mancini, Guy Mika, Joy Brenner-Letich, Mitchell Mankin, Iona Feldman, and Abbie Goldberg.

Tuition and mandatory fees at Brandeis rose 5.3 percent between the 2011-12 academic year and the following school year, according to data on the university’s website.

From 2012-2013 to this current academic year, tuition and mandatory fees rose another 4 percent to reach $46,106 – a figure that does not include housing, food, health insurance and other expenses, which on average add at least another $10,000 in costs. Brandeis’ dorm and meal plan rates have also risen in the past few years.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Brandeis, Waltham officials explore ways to improve safety of crosswalk where 3 students were struck

February 11, 2014 02:53 PM

Brandeis University and Waltham city officials said they are discussing ways to improve the safety of a busy crosswalk where three students were hit by a car last week.

“We have initiated meetings with the City of Waltham and are poised to move quickly in conjunction with recommendations from the city's traffic commissioner,” said a statement from university spokeswoman Ellen de Graffenreid.

Both campus and city officials declined to comment on what measures might be considered for the crosswalk on South Street, a city-controlled roadway that cuts through Brandeis’ campus.

“Obviously the [traffic] commissioner, [Police Chief Keith MacPherson], wants us to do everything we can do to make sure this area is as safe as possible,” said Waltham traffic commission clerk Frank Lombardo.

Brandeis student newspaper The Justice first reported Tuesday that campus and city officials were exploring ways to make the crosswalk safer.

On Sunday, Feb. 2, at about 6:25 p.m., three undergraduates were walking east in the crosswalk when they were struck by a car traveling north and driven by a 42-year-old man from Belmont, authorities have said.

The students were hospitalized with serious injuries, but were listed in stable condition later that night. A spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney’s office said this week that the matter remains under investigation.

A day after the incident, police and students told the Globe that the crosswalk presents dangers for both pedestrians and drivers.

Neon yellow signs warn drivers in either direction to be cautious when approaching crosswalk, and pedestrians can push a button to activate flashing yellow lights before they cross.

But the crosswalk sits at the crest of a hill, and the street bends several times as it cuts through the university campus, reducing sight lines and reaction times for drivers and pedestrians.

Students can cross over South Street by using a pedestrian bridge a short distance away. But some students said the bridge can be inconvenient and a bit out of the way, depending on where they are coming from and going to on campus.

One student suggested that the yellow flashing lights at the crosswalk should be converted into a standard traffic light with a button pedestrians can press to make the signal turn red and that better signs or other measures should be installed to give drivers more warning before they reach the crosswalk.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Clashes between Israeli forces, students at Palestinian university sparks concern at Brandeis

February 5, 2014 04:21 PM

(Al-Quds Educational TV / YouTube)

A video report by Al-Quds Educational TV posted to YouTube claims to show footage of the alleged Jan. 22 clash.

An alleged clash between Israeli soldiers and students at a Palestinian university that involved tear gas bombs, injured students, and damaged buildings last month has prompted concern among some administration and faculty at Brandeis University.

Brandeis, a nonsectarian, Jewish-sponsored university in Waltham, suspended its decade-old partnership with Al-Quds University in November after the president of the Arab university refused to condemn a demonstration on the Palestinian campus in which marchers reportedly flashed Nazi salutes and included banners of dead suicide bombers.

But some Brandeis faculty and administrators have maintained close ties with Al-Quds, including visiting the university in recent months. Meanwhile, Brandeis leaders said they have been working to re-establish a partnership with the college.

On Jan. 22, a clash broke out at Al-Quds' main campus in the West Bank village of Abu Dis.

Brandeis’ student newspaper, The Justice, was the first news outlet in the Boston area to report on the clash.

There are differing accounts of who started the confrontation and how it unfolded.

According to Al-Quds, the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education, and Palestinian news agency Ma'an, Israeli soldiers allegedly began checking student identifications at an Al-Quds campus gate before launching tear gas and rubber bullets into the campus. That prompted some students to throw stones back at the Israeli forces.

The Palestinian college said dozens of students were injured and several campus facilities were damaged.

“During the clashes, students and faculty members were stranded in their classes and offices looking for shelter, as it was unsafe to leave the university due to the heavy clouds of tear gas filling the air,” Al-Quds’ statement said. “For several hours nobody was able to exit the university campus from the front three gates, as they were occupied by Israeli soldiers and the university’s security was trying to keep students away.”

However, an Israeli Border Patrol spokesperson told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that members of the Al-Quds campus community started the clash.

"During an operation, the officers encountered an unruly mob that threw firebombs and stones before fleeing into the campus," the spokesperson told Haaretz. "Officers entered the campus in order to arrest them. One suspect was arrested for throwing stones. It is important to note that any attempt to harm security forces will be dealt with severely, and suspects will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Any attempt to distort the facts and present the situation differently is untruthful."

Photos and videos claiming to show the alleged clashes have been posted online.

Haaretz reported that the Al-Quds campus has become "a hotspot for clashes: students say that Israeli Border Patrol officers provocatively take up positions around the campus, and wait for opportunities to pounce."

Officials from Al-Quds, Palestine’s Ministry of Higher Education, two Brandeis faculty and a Brandeis administrator also said there have been numerous similar clashes at Al-Quds recently.

“Israeli military actions on and around the AQU campus have occurred frequently in recent months, including an incident involving tear gas and rubber bullets on November 17, 2013, that we experienced personally,” said a statement from Brandeis administrator Daniel Terris and faculty members Susan S. Lanser and Daniel Kryder, who have spoken out in recent months to urge their university to lift the suspension and re-establish a partnership with Al-Quds.

Lanser said in an email that Al-Quds has allegedly been hit by 26 such incursions by Israeli Defense Forces since the 2013-2014 academic year began.

“As far as we know, Israeli officials have not provided any reasons for these actions,” the professors’ joint statement said. “These unexplained incursions significantly interfere with the university's mission of scholarship, education, and the promotion of democratic and pluralistic values.”

“Although Brandeis University suspended the formal partnership between our two institutions in November 2013, we are pursuing individual projects and remain in close touch with our AQU counterparts,” the professors’ statement added. “We want to call attention to the events of January 22 and to express our concern for our Al-Quds University colleagues and other members of the AQU community whose personal security and pursuit of learning have been disrupted by these violent actions.”

A Brandeis spokeswoman said in an email Wednesday that university President Frederick M. Lawrence is “saddened to hear about violence at Al-Quds University, which is highly disruptive to the educational and academic missions we value so highly.”

“As we continue to exchange information between our faculty and administrators in the hope that we can rebuild the partnership between Brandeis and Al-Quds University, we are dealing with numerous sensitive issues,” said the email from the spokeswoman, Ellen de Graffenreid. “These issues require broad input from our communities and open and honest communication that is difficult when our statements are being scrutinized by the public and the media."

“President Lawrence is dedicated to keeping the lines of communication open between our institutions but also believes that reacting to events by issuing statements in the public media would not serve a useful purpose in advancing this communication,” her email added.

Palestine’s Ministry of Higher Education accused Israeli forces of initiating the Jan. 22 clash at Al-Quds and strongly condemned their actions “for desecrating the sanctity of the institution, obstructing the educational process, and for intentionally horrifying thousands of students and staff members by utilizing all terrorist means including random heavy firing.”

“The partnership between Brandeis and Al-Quds began formally in 2003 and has roots dating back to 1997. It has featured a number of faculty, administrative and student exchanges, "designed to foster cultural understanding" and to provide educational opportunities, according to Brandeis.

Soon after Brandeis announced its suspension, Syracuse University suspended its ties with Al-Quds, while Bard College announced it would maintain its partnership with Al-Quds.

Bard College issued a statement after the Jan. 22 clash at Al-Quds condemning the violence.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

alquds12214a.jpeg

(Al-Quds University)

alquds12214b.jpeg

(Al-Quds University)

alquds12214c.jpg

(Al-Quds University)

Nelson Mandela's grandsons to speak at Brandeis tonight

February 5, 2014 11:01 AM

Two grandsons of the late Nelson Mandela are scheduled to visit Brandeis University tonight to deliver the keynote address of the school’s third annual social justice festival, 'DEIS Impact.

Brandeis officials said that while the campus was closed Wednesday due to a snowstorm, the speech and other festival activities were still scheduled to happen from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Levin Ballroom of the Usdan Student Center

Mandela’s grandsons, Kweku Mandela-Amuah and Ndaba Mandela, plan to discuss the formation of their foundation, Africa Rising, and their efforts to promote a positive image of Africa and to instill a sense of pride and purpose in young Africans across the globe, campus officials said.

The keynote speech, "Africa Rising: The Mandela legacy and the next generation of African leadership," was organized in collaboration with the Ruth First Lecture Series sponsored by the African and Afro-American Studies Department, officials said.

Last year's keynote speakers at the festival, actress Eliza Dushku and her mother, Judy, also plan to attend today’s talk, officials said.

Judy Dushku is the founder of THRIVE-Gulu, an organization that addresses post-conflict concerns in Uganda, including child soldiers, sex slavery, officials said.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Brandeis offers buyouts to 150 staff to help address $6.5m budget deficit

February 4, 2014 03:22 PM

Brandeis University is offering voluntary early retirement buyout packages to about 150 employees, or about 13 percent of its total 1,155-member staff, to address a projected $6.5 million budget deficit.

The buyouts – offered to staff 60 years or older with 10 or more years of service at Brandeis as of April 1. 2014 – do not apply to faculty members, university spokeswoman Ellen de Graffenreid said.

“Administrative staffing needs change over time, which can lead to some areas that are overstaffed and -- frankly -- some areas that are understaffed,” she said in an email to the Globe. “The voluntary early retirement program is intended to help balance out staffing and workloads to make our operations more efficient and effective.”

When asked how many employees the university hopes will take the buyout offer, how much money the university hopes to save through the program, and whether layoffs might follow if the goals of the buyout are not reached, de Graffenreid said the university has not set a “target savings, and the actual savings will depend on a large number of factors.”

“This is part of an overall effort to streamline administration through procurement savings and a number of other efforts to make Brandeis more operationally efficient and effective,” added de Graffenreid. “Brandeis is offering a voluntary early retirement incentive program in an effort to streamline business processes, facilitate more consistent workloads, and address the university's current budget deficit.”

She said there are no current layoffs at the university, but there were some in the prior fiscal year, which ended on June 30. Those layoffs "were the result of organizational changes in our facilities operation," said de Graffenreid.

She said that “depending on which staff choose the voluntary program” some programs and offices may choose to replace those staff.

“Brandeis is an equal opportunity employer and any applications will be evaluated on that basis,” she added.

Brandeis provost Steve A.N. Goldstein and COO Steve Manos notified staff of the voluntary buyout program in an email last week.

Employees who accept a buyout will receive a year’s severance at their regular base pay plus a $15,000 “transition allowance,” according to a copy of the Jan. 27 email obtained by the Globe.

The email said employees must notify the university of their decision by April 1 and that, if they opt to accept the buyout, their retirement date must be no later May 30.

The email said staff members eligible for the buyout will receive “details specific to their situation, including their options for continuing health care coverage” within 10 working days after Jan. 27.

“We are providing as much notification to eligible employees as possible so that they can consult with their families and advisors to determine whether this might be an option they wish to pursue,” the email said.

Brandeis has been sharply criticized in recent months by students, faculty, alumni and others with ties to the university after a Globe report in November revealed that the school’s former president Jehuda Reinharz has received millions from the school for part-time work since stepping down three years ago.

In response to the controversy, the university announced two weeks ago a series of policy changes designed to set a more open and fair process for determining executive compensation.

The university spokeswoman said in an email Tuesday that the payments to Reinharz were not a factor in the decision to offer voluntary buyouts.

“The funds paid to President Emeritus Reinharz were previously reported on Brandeis University's tax returns and have been set aside over the course of many years,” de Graffenreid said. “These payments have no impact on the current or future university budget,” which she said school officials project will have a deficit of about $6.5 million this year.

Gordon Fellman, a sociology professor and a member of Brandeis' faculty for the past 50 years, told the Globe on Tuesday night that he and others at the university were upset to learn about the buyout plan.

"I think universities have increasingly modeled themselves after corporations. Their bottom line question is how much money can you save, not what is important to the community," he said.

Fellman, who first voiced his displeasure about the buyouts to Brandeis' student newspaper The Justice, said that he believes most of the staff who will fit the criteria of the buyout offer will be women.

"It's sex and age discrimination," he said.

He said many staff worry that "either the people remaining will be loaded up with work from the people who leave or they'll replace them with lower-paid employees."

He said employees worry that if they take the buyout, they will have trouble finding another job with similar pay.

Alternatively, "If they don't take the buyout, they may get fired the next day," Fellman said. "That's a horrible position to put employees in."

He said the news of the buyouts was particularly offensive in light of the revelations of Reinharz controversial pay.

"People here are being asked to be bought out at a year's salary and he got bought out at about 100 years salary," he said. "It's something that rankles a lot of faculty and staff. That's been a real insult and it's made people very angry."

"Brandeis is a school that's proud of its commitment to social justice. Where does this fit in to social justice?."

He said the university should consider other ways to save money, including cutting back salaries for the highest-paid administrators and working harder to improve fundraising.

At the very least, he said, "Instead of this top-down approach, it would make a lot more sense to call everyone in the community together and try to figure this out. People can be inventive when they're up against it."

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Brandeis student in serious, but stable condition after she, 2 other students hit by car while crossing street

February 3, 2014 03:31 PM

An 18-year-old Brandeis University student remained hospitalized and in serious, but stable condition today after she and two other students were struck by a car Sunday night while crossing a busy street that runs through the Waltham campus, police said.

Waltham Police Sergeant William Gallant said the other two injured students, an 18-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman, had been released from Beth Israel Medical Center as of about 10 a.m. Monday.

On Monday afternoon, both Waltham Police and university officials referred questions about the incident to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office.

The district attorney’s office said no charges had been filed as of Monday afternoon.

The office said the matter was under investigation and did not release further details, including about the identities of the victims, their conditions, the driver, what may have caused the crash or how long the investigation may take.

The three undergraduates were walking east in a crosswalk on South Street at about 6:25 p.m. Sunday night when they were struck by a grey Lexus traveling north and driven by a 42-year-old man from Belmont, Waltham Police said in a statement Sunday night.

Responders arrived to find all three students in the roadway and the driver, who did not appear to be impaired, remained on scene with his car, which had a damaged windshield, police said.

Two of the students suffered head injuries, police said. The third victim was unconscious. They were taken to Beth Israel with serious injuries, but the hospital reported to police later on Sunday night that all three were in “stable” condition, police said.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Reports of sexual assaults rise on Boston-area college campuses

February 3, 2014 11:00 AM

Reports of sexual assaults at Boston-area colleges have risen over the past five years, a Globe review of federally reported data has found.

Campus safety experts say the rise in reporting of sexual assaults suggests that many colleges – pushed by government agencies, victims, and new federal guidelines – are improving efforts to address the problem by expanding education and outreach and by more thoroughly reporting the widely underreported crime.

“When we see sexual assault numbers increase, that hopefully means the barriers to reporting are finally beginning to be addressed, which means you are beginning the steps to solve the problem,” said S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative who has spent more than two decades studying campus safety.

An estimated 88 percent of college victims do not formally report sexual assaults, according to a federal study.

Across 22 of the largest campuses in and around Boston, reports of “forcible sex offenses” rose by nearly 40 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the most recent data supplied by colleges as required under the federal Clery Act.

The total of 113 sexual assaults reported in 2012 at the Boston-area colleges reviewed for this report is the highest level in a decade, and mirror trends at campuses nationwide. Meanwhile, reports of other serious type of crime at area schools – murder, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and arson – have declined or barely increased, according to the federal data.

The Clery reports cover allegations of crimes that occurred on campus, including dorms and other public property; at property owned by but separated from the main campus; and fraternities and sororities. They exclude other off-campus housing.

Below are examples from some of the schools’ with data that stood out:

Harvard

Over the past five years, Harvard University has consistently reported more sexual assaults per year, and more incidents per enrolled student, than any other campus in the Boston area. In 2012, 38 cases were reported, up from 19 in 2008.

Harvard officials said the university has been active in recent years in trying to address the issue, including creating in 2002 a centralized office with victim-support services and resources to help students learn about sexual assault prevention and response.

“We firmly believe that more robust reporting of sexual assaults by victims is an important component of our efforts to prevent these crimes and ensure that victims get the support that they need,” said Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin.

UMass Boston

UMass Boston reported the second-highest number of alleged assaults in 2012, at 13, up from 0 five years earlier.

Crystal Valencia, a spokeswoman for the school, said none of the 2012 incidents involved a student from the university and only one of the 2012 reported incidents occurred on campus. The others happened at off-campus property the university either owns, leases, or controls.

“UMass Boston is committed to maintaining the highest standards for the safety and security of every person on campus,” Valencia said.

BU, Northeastern

Over the past five years, Harvard has led all local schools reporting on average about 10 sexual assaults each year for every 10,000 students. Still, those rates are still well-below estimates of actual annual rape rates. For instance, a 2007 Department of Justice-funded study estimated that about 5.2 percent of college women, or 520 in every 10,000, are sexually assaulted each year; the study did not calculate a rate for men or men and women together.

Other large local schools have reported significantly fewer sexual assaults each year. Over the past five years, Boston University and Northeastern University have each reported on average about two sexual assaults each year for every 10,000 students.

Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit that trains colleges and universities to comply with the Clery Act, said she’s usually most alarmed by Clery reports with low sexual assault figures.

“We constantly tell parents and students that higher sexual assault numbers aren’t necessarily a bad thing,” she said. “It often means students know where to go to report and that they’re comfortable doing so.”

“I’m typically more concerned when I see a school reporting zeroes across the board,” Kiss added.

Yet, “All too-often it’s the colleges with the higher statistics that get labeled as being dangerous when in fact they’re usually the ones who are doing a better job reporting,” Carter said.

Madeleine Estabrook, associate vice president for student affairs at Northeastern, said the university is “very diligent” in reporting its Clery data.

She said the school’s low sexual assault reporting may be due to a wide range of variables that could impact the data, including the school’s geographic location and configuration, the number of students living on campus and the university’s efforts around sexual assault prevention and response.

“The work that is done to make the campus safe in secure is a very important variable to consider,” Estabrook said.

She said that five years ago, with help from a grant from the Department of Justice, the university revamped its violence support, response and education programming. That effort included building a collaboration among existing services on the campus, uniting programs around sexual assault, alcohol use and other campus safety issues.

Estabrook said the university's programming around campus safety is regarded as "cutting edge not only in Boston but also nationally."

BU created a campus crisis center in 2012 to focus on rape and sexual assault prevention and support for victims of such acts as well as other forms of physical abuse, such as hazing.

Colin Riley, a spokesman for BU, said the university is thorough and accurate in its reporting of Clery data.

And, "We also recognize it’s very important that students feel comfortable reporting," he said.

Riley said the university works to ensure students are aware of the issue.

"This is a topic that is frequently discussed on campus," he said.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Congress, experts call on federal officials, campuses to improve campus sexual assault data collection efforts

February 3, 2014 11:00 AM

More than three dozen members of Congress have written to the federal office in charge of enforcing the Clery Act, calling on it to do a better job of collecting data on campus sexual assaults.

Advocacy groups and researchers have been calling for better, more transparent data collection for years. The Globe’s review of Clery data -- federally mandated reports on campus crime -- found that the number of assaults reported by most, if not all, campuses – both locally and nationally – over the past decade have been much lower than estimates of numerous studies.

Even with a spike in reported campus sexual assaults over the past five years, the rates schools are reporting come nowhere close to figures in a 2007 Department of Justice-funded study which estimated that about 5.2 percent of college women are sexually assaulted each year.

Experts say such low numbers tend to mean schools either need to do more to make students feel comfortable reporting the crime or schools need to do a more thorough, honest job in their methods for collecting and reporting the data, or a combination of the two. Stronger federal oversight could be a key driver for this, too, experts say.

Campuses urged to monitor prevalence, not just reported cases

One part of the letter signed by 39 members of Congress called on the US Education Department's Office for Civil Rights to require colleges and universities to conduct anonymous surveys of students to more accurately report how prevalent sexual assault is on each campus – not simply how often it is reported.

An estimated 88 percent of victims do not formally report the crime, according to a 2007 study funded by the Department of Justice.

David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who has spent the past three decades researching campus sexual assault, said the fact that few, if any, schools study how prevalent the crime actually is on their campuses “underscores one of the major shortcomings in how higher education has been handling sexual assault.”

Lisak, who recently retired from teaching at UMass Boston, has advised US military officials on how to prevent and respond to sexual assault cases at service academies.

He said that changes made by the Department of Defense in just the past several years has led military academies to implement better methods of collecting meaningful data about sexual assaults than higher education has managed over the past two-and-a-half decades since the Clery Act was signed into law in 1990.

The country’s three military academies not only compile annual statistics on sexual assaults reported to authorities, but also conduct an anonymous survey of cadets and midshipmen every two years to get a more accurate picture of how many sexual assaults actually occur.

For example, during the 2011-12 academic year, 58 sexual assaults were reported at the service academies, according to a report from the Department of Defense to Congress. But an anonymous survey estimated the actual number of sexual assaults at the academies that year was about 526.

“We’ve really been focusing our efforts on trying to increase reporting so victims can get the help they need,” said Department of Defense spokeswoman Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson.

Asked why few, if any, higher education institutions anonymously survey students regularly about sexual assault, Lisak said: “Because then the numbers are out there.”

“There’s still a lot of resistance,” he added. “All universities have mechanisms already in place [to conduct such a survey]. This would not be technically challenging really at any level. We really just need the will.”

The Jan. 29 letter from members of Congress also urges the education department office to: be more transparent about its investigations and enforcement actions around campus sexual assault and harassment; create a central, public database about laws and guidelines schools are expected to follow around the issue of sexual assault; and to require campuses to be more transparent in disclosing what each is doing to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including making available information about crime statistics, enforcement actions, and students’ rights under Title IX.

When asked for a response to the letter, Education Department press secretary Dorie Nolt said in a statement: “We have received the letter and will respond to it. We agree that this is a very important issue, which is why we have prioritized civil rights enforcement and are working to galvanize a national effort to help prevent sexual assaults and to better support survivors of sexual violence. In fact, last week, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to establish the ‘White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.’”

Federal department unsure why some Clery figures seem off

The figures that the Globe reviewed for its story on campus sexual assault came directly from an online database run by the federal Education Department.

Every higher education institution in the US that receives federal financial aid is required by law to submit he data to the department. The department then posts those figures to the website, www.ope.ed.gov/security.

The data dates back to as early as 2001, but some of the crime figures, particularly between 2001 and 2003 seem unbelievably high.

Jane Glickman, a spokeswoman for the federal Education Department, also doubted the validity of some of the data between 2001 and 2003 but said she had no idea why the numbers were likely wrong and said she did not know of anyone in the department would could provide an explanation for the apparent inconsistencies.

She said the department simply collects the data from schools and posts the numbers online. She said the department tries to check back with schools if certain numbers seem off, but otherwise the department does not analyze the data it collects.

Glickman also declined to comment on, and said she did not know anyone in the department who could comment on, why the Globe’s review found that the number of sexual assaults has risen in recent years while other crime types have gone down or held relatively steady.

“The law calls on the department to collect campus crime data and ensure that institutions are complying with the law’s provisions,” Glickman wrote in an email. “We do not analyze the data or do research into why certain crime categories are going up or down.”

However, the department is the only agency in charge of enforcing the Clery Act and its data reporting rules.

In the 15 years between 1997 and 2012, the department completed a total of 59 investigations into schools suspected of not being in full compliance with the Clery Act, according to a list of the finished reports on the education department’s website that the spokeswoman referred the Globe to. Of those, 34 investigations were completed in the four years between 2009 and 2012.

She said the department does not disclose investigations that are ongoing.

The department conducts such reviews if: a complaint is filed; “a media event raises certain concerns;” the school’s independent audit “identifies serious non-compliance;” or through a “review selection process,” the website says.

Glickman said the department takes all complaints and reviews seriously but noted that some reviews take several years and said that the department has limited resources to conduct such investigations.

A 2002 study funded by the Department of Justice found that about only 36.5 percent of schools reported “crime statistics in a manner that was fully consistent with the Clery Act.”

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights also investigates allegations of colleges and universities violating Title IX, the federal civil rights law protecting students from general discrimination.

Over the past several years, the number of such complaints related specifically to campus sexual violence has risen, according to data provided by department spokesman Jim Bradshaw.

In the both the 2009 and 2010 fiscal year there were 11 such complaints. There were 18 complaints in 2011 and 17 the following year before the number of complaints spiked to 30 during 2013.

In the department’s current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, there have already been 13 such complaints.

The office said it currently has 39 pending Title IX investigations involving allegations of sexual violence at post-secondary institutions.

Still, experts say more needs to be done to hold schools accountable.

“The Office for Civil Rights is broken,” said Colby Bruno, an attorney at the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston, who runs training programs about the education rights of sexual assault victims and helps some students file federal complaints against their schools.

“The law isn’t really lacking. Where we’re lacking is enforcement,” she added.

Getting Clery data from the Education Department website, especially for years prior to 2005, can be confusing and cumbersome.

Even after the data is found, it’s can be difficult to interpret, in part because schools are given leeway in how they interpret certain aspects of the law and thus how they report. For instance, Glickman said schools “have latitude” in how they determine what areas around their campus to include when they report Clery data.

“To me the data is vitally important because there’s a sense of accountability and I think schools need that,” said Bruno. “Reliable data is also important because we want to see if programming and prevention efforts are working.”

Other past, ongoing efforts to improve Clery

The letter from members of Congress was led by Democrat US Representatives Jackie Speier, of California, and Carolyn Maloney, of New York. The letter also said the office should provide campuses with better guidance about how to respond to same-sex violence and gender identity discrimination.

In recent years, some efforts have been made to improve the effectiveness of the Clery Act.

In a “Dear Colleague Letter” issued April 4, 2011, the federal education department outlined a series of guidelines for how colleges should respond to sexual harassment and violence.

Last year, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act, which added a section called the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, a law setting new standards for how campuses report sex offenses. Schools will need to comply with those new regulations for the first time when they submit Clery reports this coming fall.

And, last week, to go along with the release of a White House report on the prevalence and devastating effects of sexual assault on college campuses, Obama created a task force of senior administration officials who, with input from campus officials, students, advocacy groups and law enforcement, will try to find ways to protect students from rape and sexual assault.

Obama said he the group’s first body of work is due in 90 days.

Advocates for sexual-assault victims say that, to go along with changes at the federal level, they have seen a surge in activism around the issue from students, campus organizations, and alumni.

Particularly, “We’re seeing a lot more victims willing to step forward and publicly talk about what happened to them and using that as a pressure for change,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-sexual violence organization.

“Hopefully that will put some pressure on colleges about how they deal with it,” he added.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Obama pledges stand against college sexual assaults

January 22, 2014 02:30 PM

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Surviving in Numbers

The numbers are small and large. They symbolize days, months, and years. They describe conversations had and not had. They represent attackers and attacks, scars and bruises, nightmares and suicide attempts.

But most importantly, the numbers illustrate resilience in the face of sexual assault--legal cases won, fears abated, and messages spread.

They inform the sexual assault awareness campaign "Surviving in Numbers," a Tumblr of posters submitted by victims and an exhibit at Massachusetts colleges and universities.

"The numbers are powerful because they give freedom for someone to express their story in the numbers they choose," said Ali Safran, the creator of "Surviving in Number and a Mount Holyoke senior, in November. "They also make it easier from people who are not survivors to understand because numbers are an easy concept."

Here are two striking ones: One in five women has been sexually assaulted at college, a new White House report found, and only 12 percent of student victims report the assault.

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday an initiative to combat sexual assaults, particularly those on college campuses. Obama assigned a newly formed task force of college administrators 90 days to formulate a list of recommendations on preventing and responding to college sexual assaults, reported The Associated Press.

The White House Council on Women and Girls report, entitled "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action," found that 22 million American woman and 1.6 million men have been victims of sexual assaults. The criminal justice response is often lacking, the report said, due to police bias and inadequate training.

‘‘No one is more at risk of being raped or sexually assaulted than women at our nation’s colleges and universities,’’ said the report.

According to a Boston.com study of 2013 Clery Act reports, there were 101 reports of forcible sex offenses and one report of a non-forcible sex offense at local colleges and universities.

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Forcible sex offenses on Boston-area campuses predominantly occurred in residential buildings.

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Reports of sexual assaults on campuses have increased in recent years. In 2010, 68 forcible sex offenses were reported, according to Boston-area colleges' Clery Act reports. At Harvard University, the number of reports nearly doubled between 2011 and 2012.

Harvard University Police Department spokesman Steven Catalano told Boston.com in September that because rapes are under-reported, he hopes the increase in reported cases means more victims are coming forward and not that more crimes are occurring on campus.

Decreasing the number of cases and making reporting them easier is the goal of Obama's task force.

"The president is committed to solving this problem, not just as president of the United States, but as a father of two girls," senior advisor Valerie Jarrett told the AP.

Safran said her own sexual assault came the year before college. "Surviving in Numbers" was inspired by her recollections of that time.

"I thought about the number of people who I had told my story to with no result," said Safran. "Then, I focused more on the number of things I've done since the assault."

Since it launched in October 2012, "Surviving in Numbers" has received more than 250 anonymous poster submissions. Safran has worked with students at Boston University, Tufts University, and Mount Holyoke College, displaying the signs on campus and offering time and supplies for victims to make one of their own.

Safran said she hopes the Obama administration will elicit survivor input in addressing the prevalence of sexual assaults.

"It’s a great step," she said, of the initiative. "And college campuses are a great place to start."

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