The call came in to Gabriel Gates earlier this month from one of Pennsylvania State University’s branch campuses: A wallet with $10 was missing from a common area in one of the buildings.
Did the school have to issue a “timely warning” to students and staff about the apparent theft, the employee wanted to know. Timely warnings are required by a 1990 federal law known as the Clery Act in cases where there is an ongoing threat to the campus community.
Gates, Penn State’s official in charge of monitoring compliance with the law, said a warning was not necessary. If a pattern developed, that could trigger the need for a warning, he said.
It was a very low-level problem for a university that has found itself under fire over the last 15 months for failing to report one of the most serious of crimes—child sex abuse.
But officials inside and outside the 96,000-student university say the school has come a long way since Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, was charged in November 2011 with abusing boys on and off campus, and the school’s top leaders were forced out and charged with failing to report the crimes and lying about their actions to a grand jury.
(Next page: How the university has become a model for Clery Act compliance—and what other schools can learn from its example)