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  • Provost Prose

    A provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

Creeping commentary
November 28, 2010 - 5:17pm

My expertise is in education and I have tried hard to keep my blog focused on just that topic. I know from reading other blogs that many authors feel qualified and empowered to comment on almost any imaginable topic. These authors are certainly empowered, they certainly have the right, and for the most part they write well. It’s just that the expertise isn’t there and therefore for me the comfort level isn’t there. And yet, I am about to violate my own guideline and talk about an area where I certainly have strong feelings but limited technical expertise.

For the last few weeks, before or after the start of almost every meeting and often also during casual conversation, colleagues have been talking about the new airport screening/scanning devices and the manual “pat down” alternative. Major newspapers and national news broadcasts are continuously focused on airport security. Invasion of privacy (both high tech and low tech) is a recurring theme. And righteous indignation is the usual tone. Even in casual conversation with friends and neighbors, the same topic keeps coming up. Perhaps the additional holiday related travel is the reason. Perhaps a few YouTube videos are the reason. Perhaps it is the discomfort with what the screening device makes visible or what a “pat down” feels like. And perhaps we are also encountering a fear of big brother.

I have just recently flown to Hawaii and will be flying to Hawaii again before the end of the year. Airports don’t thrill me and standing on line waiting for a security screening while at the same time removing my shoes, my belt, and taking my computer out of my carryon bag, thrills me even less. I imagine we would all agree that airport check-ins don’t quality as a wonderful experience. But I do place a premium on being safe. If that safety involves being scanned, I will willingly go through the scanner. A “pat down” for me is not as desirable or comfortable but if that is the only “safe” alternative, I will comply and accept that alternative.

In a world where unfortunately there are some individuals who are crazy or misguided, we need all the help we can get to prevent their misdeeds from happening. I would rather have some uncomfortable moments during check-in and a safe flight than an alternative which makes for a more pleasant check-in with much more vulnerability. In the trade-off between safety and comfort, knowing that “all of the above” is not an option, I will always opt for safety.

I feel better for having written this blog; however, my next blog will get back to a focus on education.

 

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