Chancellor Q&A: Campus Safety
Student safety is an important and ever-present concern. Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw sat down recently with Syracuse Record Executive Editor Kevin Morrow for a question-and-answer session on the subject.
Q: One can surmise that parents have numerous concerns when they bring their freshman child to campus at the start of the academic year, including worries about the new student navigating a large campus located in an urban area. What would you say to a mom who approached you on Opening Weekend and expressed concerns about her child?s safety at SU?
I would first thank her for her interest. It is important that parents have that concern. I would suggest that the most important thing is to make sure that her son or daughter accepts personal responsibility for safety. This is an urban campus, but its attractiveness is that it?s not highly urbanized. It is a beautiful campus. It?s very inviting. And that?s a plus. The downside is that sometimes its being inviting makes students forgetful of how to remain safe. Whether you live in an urban area or a rural area, you don?t generally take a walk in the park at three o?clock in the morning by yourself. You lock your doors to your room when you are going out. If you are of age and you?ve been drinking, you need to be sure that you are able to walk somewhere and that you?re walking with a group, so that you?re not vulnerable. There are certain things that you need to do to take personal responsibility.
The second thing I?d say would be to advise the mother to have her student learn about the services that exist. There?s an escort service. There?s information about what kind of bike lock to get. There are all type of safety tips offered by the Department of Public Safety (http://sumweb.syr.edu/pubsafe.) Learn them.
The third thing is to be willing to inform the University and Public Safety when there are concerns about safety. Because if we don?t know what the concerns are, we can?t deal with them. For example, we have a telephone system if someone is receiving harassing calls, we often can catch the person responsible. We can?t catch the person if the individual doesn?t indicate that he or she has a concern. We can deal with the problem and offer advice if we are given the opportunity to do so. That?s very important, to encourage your son or daughter to express his or her concerns.
And as we know, particularly on campus, most of the safety issues are student to student. They may be arguments that lead to fighting. They may involve petty theft. Things of that nature. They typically don?t involve people from outside campus; they could but for the most part they don?t. And there is a great tendency not to report your fellow student. Where that can become a big problem is if your fellow student is selling drugs and for a variety of reasons you choose not to anonymously let people know; we have a anonymous service for people that want to give tips (http://sumweb.syr.edu/pubsafe/silent.html). But if you don?t let us know, we don?t know to deal with it. And that?s a serious problem, because if there is someone selling drugs the well-being of everyone living there is affected.
So, after saying those three things, I would say: “We will do everything we can to help your child be safe. We will work with them to be sure they understand their personal responsibilities. And at the end of the day, this is a very safe place.” But saying it?s a very safe place doesn?t mean you should let your guard down. And you shouldn?t let your guard down even if you?re out in a bucolic countryside area?you still don?t want to take a walk through the cemetery at three o?clock in the morning by yourself.
Q: In January 2000, a horrible fire devastated a residence hall at Seton Hall University, killing three students and injuring many more. Could that happen here?
A serious fire can happen anywhere. We had a fire here about five years ago in one of our residence halls. Our residence halls are constructed in a way that fires tend to be contained. And this was?it was contained to half of a floor?so that when the fire doors closed, that was the only place there was a fire. It was contained, but it was still serious. Thankfully, there were no injuries from it.
The most important thing is prevention and to educate our students not to do things that lead to fires. One preventive measure, of course, is not to smoke in bed. We have a no smoking policy in our residence halls. That helps a lot. A second is the extent to which people are using burners for things and leaving them on. That can happen. The rooms can contain a fire in the sense that the cement walls are not going to burn down, but the most dangerous thing that happens in a room during a fire is that the materials in there if they burn will put off toxic fumes?whether it?s a computer or radio or whatever?so prevention is very important.
We were very concerned about the Seton Hall fire. We had already planned to install sprinkler systems in all of our North Campus residence halls. We tried to speed up that plan as much as we could, knowing that there are only a few companies that do it and that there would be high demand for them. At the end of the summer of 2003, our goal is to have all of the sprinklers installed in North Campus residence halls at a total cost of about $10 million. There?s no question, it?s money well spent.
You always ask yourself in a situation like the Seton Hall fire, “What would we do differently?” And you end up mostly on the prevention side. You simply try to do better. The Syracuse Fire Department is very, very conscientious. Given the number of false alarms they receive, I give them high marks for taking each alarm very seriously. They come out in full regalia whenever there is an alarm. So, we have no concern with the quality of their service. They do a solid job. The fire safety division of Risk Management performs regular inspections of the life safety equipment in our residential facilities and conducts fire drills so that students understand how to evacuate.
Q: When high-profile incidents happen on other campuses?such as the fire at Seton Hall and the recent homicides at Gallaudet and Dartmouth?how do we react? And what do we learn from them?
We always try to learn from other people?s problems and ask ourselves what we might have done in that situation. This type of thinking is really of a preventative nature. There?s nothing to prevent some of these things from happening, at Dartmouth and Gallaudet, no matter how secure you might think your city or residential community is.
We have had our own crises. We had the Labor Day Storm in September 1998, when there was a blast of wind that did very serious damage to the region and to our campus, and we learned some things from that. A decade earlier, we faced the Lockerbie Air Disaster (December 1988), which was a crisis of unbelievable proportions. And so not only do you respond, but you sit back and think about what you need to do to make sure that you are ready for a similar kind of emergency in the future. The dilemma with all of this is that you learn from each emergency, but each one also has its own unique aspects, and all you can do is the best you can.
Q: A Department of Public Safety station opened last fall in the Goldstein Student Center, and there has been talk about making South Campus more of a “gated community.” What?s up with this?
That?s an interesting kind of policy dilemma because we are very concerned that our students feel safe there, and I would go through the same sets of rules that I mentioned earlier?that students have a responsibility to report untoward activities and to do common sense things. We now have a Public Safety station on South Campus. We are considering the possibility of restricting entrance to South Campus to students, their guests and employees. That limits the number of outside people present and helps with crime deterrence. It doesn?t solve problems when you have student-on-student safety concerns, but it would deal with the former.
The policy issue, though, is how much control do people want someone else to have over their lives versus the safety factor. What is universally accepted is that students themselves want to be safe. When you begin to get into the ways of making that happen, the agreement starts to fade. And so this is one situation where we will take our best shot at making the situation better.
The upside is very obvious in the idea of using gates. The intent is to restrict access to people who have permission, reside or work there. The downside is, you?re going to have to deal with an awful lot of people who have felt that easy come-and-go is something that they really like. If they have to wait to get in, if they have a friend who is visiting and they forget to leave the friend?s name at the call station?all of that would have to be worked out. I?m simply saying, it?s a very complex issue.
I have been here long enough to see other situations that illustrate this problem. One was several years ago, when a person who didn?t belong in a residence hall was getting in. And it was pretty clear as to how that was happening?students were basically very casual about when people were using their I.D. cards and going into the building. So we really tightened things up. We even kept a Public Safety car there for a while. After the first week, everyone was really happy and felt very good about that. And after a couple of weeks, there were a lot of complaints about the delays of getting into the building and why the Public Safety car was out there in the evenings, and so on. I?m simply saying that we fight the age-old battle of safety versus a person?s privacy and convenience. And we have to deal with it. And there is no way to make everyone happy when you do that. However, the security improvements at entrances are still in place and are now an accepted part of residence hall life.
As for South Campus, we are going to look at ways that we can restrict vehicular traffic. The question is, can we do it in an effective and efficient way? We are examining every way we can to see how that can be accomplished. We just don?t know yet if we have a solution that meets the expectations of everybody.
Q: About 3,500 students live off campus in close proximity to the University, the vast majority in the neighborhood immediately east of North Campus. It?s not unusual to pick up a copy of The Daily Orange and see a report of an assault or a burglary in this neighborhood. Safety in the neighborhood has been on the minds of a lot of students. What can the University do? Some say SU should be doing more?what do you think?
If we had police powers, it would be easy to do more. But we don?t have those kinds of powers. We have the power to arrest, but it?s mainly confined to our part of the world, on our property. We can chase someone off of our property, but that?s different from patrolling in the city and making arrests, other than a citizen?s arrest, which anyone can do. So we don?t have full police capabilities. What we?re left with is working with the City of Syracuse, and the police have been very responsible to the Neighborhood Patrol Initiative (http://www.syr.edu/community/patrol.html). But let?s make no mistake about it: The initiative is funded by the University and through neighborhood association funds that allow for the payment of overtime to city police. To be more realistic, if we want more from the city, there would have to be additional overtime payments.
And that poses a very interesting policy question. For the most part, South Campus is more expensive than living on the east side. Part of the reason it is more expensive is because of the amenities that the University provides. We offer a dining facility. We have a setup for computing. South Campus housing is now all wired. And we spend a great deal of money on safety. On North Campus, there is a presence overnight, checking that those entering have a legitimate reason for being there and checking that outside doors are locked at night. And the students pay for that in their housing fees. It?s easier for us to take responsibility for something that is ours, and we are in fact passing the charges on to the students.
A student who lives off campus has elected to say that he or she wants greater privacy and maybe wants to save money. One of the ways that person saves money is by not paying for the services that the students who live on campus are paying for, including Public Safety services.
There are a couple possible solutions to this dilemma. One is for the property owners to put some kind of tax on the students and use the money for safety improvements. If you figure there are 3,500 students in the neighborhood and the landlords tack on an additional $10 a month for safety enhancements, that is a lot of money. The landlords I?ve talked to don?t seem too keen on that, feeling that it would hurt their competitive position in trying to get students in. So they don?t want to pay for it, and they don?t want to tax the students.
Another approach would be for the University to charge an off-campus fee to anyone who is living off campus and to then use the money to pay the Syracuse Police Department to provide greater patrolling.
So what we have is a situation that the University doesn?t have the legal right itself to police the neighborhood. We know how it could be done, but it will cost dollars. Then it gets down to, do students really want to pay something for greater security? To me, $5 or $10 a month doesn?t seem like a lot for this. And we are considering some options like this. But there is a limit to what we can do on our own.
That said, I want to affirm that I think the area may be safer than it has been in the past. I think the NPI has made an impact; even though it is only on weekends, when you have a police presence you make a difference. What?s catching people?s attention is that there is simply more reporting of these incidents nowadays. I?ve been reading these incident reports for 10 years; there are always a certain number that occur and if anything they are less now.
Q: In the most recent quarterly C.A.R.E. report (http://students.syr.edu/depts/judicial/care/CARE2001second.pdf) from the Office of Judicial Affairs and in the one before that, for the first quarter of the 2000-01 academic year, the number of student judicial cases this year compared to last year has dropped dramatically, and alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct involving alcohol or drugs has also declined. What do you make of this?
The numbers are good, but it is quite early. We suspect that the reduction in the number of alcohol-related cases this year may be connected to the University?s comprehensive approach to substance abuse prevention. The 12 Point Plan (http://students.syr.edu/12pointplan/) has educational programming, support services, social activities, policies and interventions that were designed to reduce alcohol abuse and related violence. We?ll have to wait and see if this is the beginning of a trend that will continue.
Q: How much of the responsibility for student safety falls on the institution and how much falls on the individual student?
We can undertake preventative measures, educate students and provide a Public Safety force, but the individual student has the best ability to provide for his or her own personal safety. To get the best results, we need students to be our partners?to report incidents to Public Safety and to take precautions for their personal safety.