Safeguarding Campuses

Shooting at Duquesne reignites debate over which security measures are prudent and which are intrusive.
September 22, 2006

It wasn’t part of a crime spree. The accused gunmen weren’t Duquesne University students. But the shooting that injured five men’s basketball players last weekend took place outside a dance on the Pittsburgh campus -- which is one reason why the incident has captured the attention of college officials across the country. 

Duquesne announced Thursday its new security measures, including the addition of five security officers, bike patrols, a vehicle patrol and roving metal detectors that can be used for campus events.

"We've had strong security on campus, and this gives us a greater sense of confidence that we are able to protect students," said Charles J. Dougherty, Duquesne's president.

Dougherty said the college requires at least two uniformed police officers at events where guests are invited onto campus -- a policy that he said was followed for last weekend's dance. A female Duquesne student who allegedly aided the gunmen was arrested on charges of reckless endangerment, carrying a firearm without a license and criminal conspiracy.

"This was an extreme, senseless act, and we can't defend against every possibility," Dougherty said. "Unless we’re prepared to lock our campuses down, which I believe we are not in America, our colleges will be open. We don't want to build fences. Students already chafe at the idea that their friends have to produce identification when they enter the dorm, but parents are pleased about that policy."

Colleges dealing with violence tend to face a tough balancing act in the immediate aftermath: how to convince students, faculty members and parents that the campus is safe without adopting policies that make students feel like they are in a police state. 

Ralph Gigliotti, president of Duquesne's Student Government Association, said he still feels safe on campus -- and that most students he has spoken to haven't lost confidence in the security safeguards already in place. But he said he would not be against extra security measures in the short term, such as metal detectors in some buildings. 

“People are used to it since September 11, and it could make people feel better," Gigliotti said. "The university trusts the students, and it's a balance between security and the overall comfort level."

The issue of campus security has already come up at a few colleges this fall. Earlier this month, a man opened fire inside a downtown Montreal college cafeteria, killing a woman and wounding more than a dozen other people before killing himself. That gunman had no affiliation to Dawson College, where the shooting occurred.

Two weeks ago, at Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pa., a student who was walking back to his apartment was robbed at gunpoint and shot in the abdomen about a block from campus (The student has recovered.) As a response, the college has added additional security patrols and has increased on and off-campus lighting. 

John Fry, the college's president, said the incident has accelerated the next stage of security measures that had been in the works, including adding additional video cameras off campus that will be monitored by university security. Still, Fry said how a college responds to an incident isn't as important as what steps it takes before an incident occurs.

“My belief is that when a terrible thing happens, institutions panic, and the reaction is to make it completely into a public safety issue, but they don’t deal with systemic issue that they generally have," Fry said.

While he was executive vice president at the University of Pennsylvania, Fry said he worked with the surrounding Philadelphia neighborhood to bolster safety watch programs and increase off-campus patrols.

When he arrived at Franklin & Marshall, he said he saw a "broken-down neighborhood" that was inviting for potential criminals. Fry has tried to spur economic development in the area. He helped institute a homebuyer initiative program for local residents and is providing some students in the class of 2009 the option of signing four-year leases to live in apartments just off campus -- with the thought that long-term neighbors have a more vested interest in keeping their surroundings safe.

“If you don’t combat deterioration, you don’t combat a high-crime area,” Fry said. “Policing helps, but in the end, give people amenities and choices. More people watching over the streets mean that the bad guys tend not to prey there.”

Fry said before worrying about the surrounding neighborhood, colleges need to first make sure their own campus is secure. Kevin Kruger, associate executive director at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, said many colleges have beefed up security since Sept. 11, adding 9-1-1 call boxes and increasing lighting. Airport-like security inside classroom buildings isn't the norm, but colleges bring out the apparatus for special events.

“The idea of having metal detectors on campus is nothing new,” Kruger said. “When you have an event, particularly one that’s going to attract people from off campus, it’s commonplace to have stringent security.”

Kruger said he doesn’t see the increased security as an assault on student freedom. “The institution has to protect the welfare of students,” he said. “If that means bag searches, pat-downs or metal detectors, so be it. That’s the environment in which we live. It’s hard to make a privacy case when you are balancing the needs of a larger population.”

Neither the University of Pittsburgh nor Carnegie Mellon University, colleges that are within miles of Duquesne, said they plan on making changes to their security policies because of the incident.

Lieut. John Race, assistant director of security at Carnegie Mellon, said he considers it an isolated incident. “I’m surprised we have had as little outcry as we have on campus,” he said. “It’s unsettling, but nothing has changed. There are a lot of universities in the middle of cities that haven’t had any problems, are we are one of them.”

Race said the university does not use metal detectors unless it suspects that a group coming from off campus might be armed. John Fedele, a spokesman for the University of Pittsburgh, said portable detectors can be used for events that involve prominent figures. 

Kruger said student affairs officials and campus police try to find a middle ground when it comes to security. He said if there are disagreements, it's sometimes police seeking more stringent measures, and student affairs personnel worrying that they will negatively affect the student experience.


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