An omission, or failure to act, is a crime only where the law imposes an affirmative duty to act. Historically, the law has been reluctant to impose such duties. Yet in some instances, the law does compel action, such as when imposing a duty to report. The recent scandal at Penn State has brought this duty into sharper focus. (Former Coach at Penn State Is Charged With Abuse)
Under Pennsylvania law, 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6311 creates a duty to report suspected child abuse, including sexual abuse. That law, however, applies only to people who come into contact with children in the course of employment, and it applies only to children under the care or supervision of the organization with which that person is affiliated. When staff members at an institution have a legal duty to report under the statute, they fully discharge that duty upon notifying the person in charge of the institution. At that point, the person in charge assumes the legal duty to report the suspected abuse to Child Protective Services.
Since the scope of the law is limited, people who would normally have a duty to report do not fall under the statute when they contact children outside the scope of employment. For example, teachers are required to report suspected abuse of children in their classes, but are not required to report suspected abuse of children they pass on the street. Arguably, this exception could apply to university administrators who do not contact or supervise children in their capacities as university officials.
Of course, the inquiry does not end at state law. Under the federal Cleary Act, institutions that participate in federal financial aid programs are required to report information about crime on their campuses to the Department of Education. It would seem then, that even if university administrators are not legally...