Department officials said in a letter to the school that the sanction should have been greater for the school's slow response to the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The $55,000 fine was the most the department could levy for Tech's two violations of the federal Clery Act, which requires timely reporting of crimes on campus.
"While Virginia Tech's violations warrant a fine far in excess of what is currently permissible under the statute, the Department's fine authority is limited," wrote Mary Gust, director of a department panel that dictated what punishment the school would receive for the violation.
The university could have lost some of its $98 million in federal student aid. The department has never stripped a school of federal funding for such a violation.
A university spokesman said Virginia Tech would appeal the decision.
"We believe that Virginia Tech administrators acted appropriately in their response to the tragic events of April 16, 2007, based on the best information then available to them at the time," spokesman Larry Hincker said in a statement.
The department issued its final report in December, finding that Virginia Tech failed to issue a timely warning to the Blacksburg campus after student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed two students in a dormitory early on the morning of April 16, 2007. The university sent out an e-mail to the campus more than two hours later, about the time Cho was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building where he killed 30 more students and faculty, then himself.
The report also determined that the school failed to follow its own procedures for providing such notification. The report said Tech's failure to issue timely warnings "deprived its students and employees of vital, time-sensitive information and denied them the opportunity to take adequate steps to provide for their own safety."