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Don't Think of Dropping In on Your President

September 9, 2008

Lizabeth Barclay was just trying to do her job.

The grievance officer for Oakland University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors was on her way to deliver a formal complaint to the senior vice president when she was barred from entrance to the office. Outside a locked door to the university’s chief administrative suite of offices, she was told by a secretary through a call box that she could not enter unless she had an appointment. Barclay explained that she did not have an appointment; she had just come to drop off the grievance paperwork. She pointed out that never before had she needed an appointment to enter.

When someone else walked out, Barclay entered and delivered her notice. But the management and marketing professor -- and many other faculty members at the Rochester, Mich. institution -- are outraged that they can apparently no longer visit the offices of senior administrators uninvited.

“Universities cannot respond to isolated acts of violence or even terrorism by denying such free access and becoming examples of closed societies,” reads an open letter distributed this month by the campus AAUP. “Universities must remain symbols of a free society. Faculty should not be drawn into actions antithetical of a free society. If senior administrators choose to respond by walling off themselves from the rest of the university, they have that right even if such actions counter the free society we hope to emulate for our students. However, faculty need not participate in such actions.”

The AAUP is recommending that faculty carry out all face-to-face contacts with senior administrations in “open university” faculty offices or conference rooms, said Joel Russell, local chapter president.

Faculty members are not the only ones being questioned at the entrance to the university’s chief administrative corridor of offices. Steve Clark, president of Oakland’s Student Congress, said he was given a “strange look” from a staff member upon being allowed entrance to visit the university president last week and noted that he “felt a little bit unwanted.” In the hallway, he said, he was questioned whether he had a scheduled appointment, which he confirmed.

“It’s too bad students can’t just come in and speak with administrators,” Clark said, adding that he and the Student Congress would look into this matter. “I’m assuming it’s for security reasons. Still, this can be solved with something else like a security guard [in the office] or something. I’ve never felt unsafe on campus. We have so many police officers. You see them like every two seconds.”

In spite of the fact that she has received direct threats from students in the past, Barclay echoed a similar sense of security on campus.

“I’m usually one of the last people out of the building at night, and I’ve never been concerned,” she said. “I’m usually more worried about falling down on a rock in the parking lot.”

In mid April, near the one-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings, the university canceled classes for two days following the discovery of threatening graffiti in a men’s bathroom. Specific upgrades to the administrative suite, including an electronically locking door and a security camera, were proposed and added in May following the threats, said Sam Lucido, chief of university police. He added that the change was not made in isolation, and that in the year since the Virginia Tech shootings access has been limited to other campus buildings as well.

The only public communication of the recent change was through a university press release, which only noted that security would “be enhanced” in east wing of the building housing the offices of the president, senior vice president and provost, general counsel, and the vice president for finance and administration. Lucido said specific security measures made regarding access to this area would not be made available to the public for safety reasons. He did say, however, that credible threats targeting specific administrators had hastened the move for added security in the building, adding that these threats were considered unrelated to the April graffiti.

Still, the added security does not make everyone feel more comfortable. Barclay said the physical barrier limiting the access of students and faculty to these administrative offices “changes the culture” of the university. She also expressed concern about access being limited to the diversity and compliance officer who works in the suite, saying that the security measures might dissuade some people with concerns about discrimination and sexual harassment from reporting them if they are not allowed entrance to the office.

While administrative officials from the limited-access offices in question would not avail themselves for an interview, Michelle Moser, university spokeswoman, relayed a statement from the administration that there is no policy in place that specifically denies admission to these offices to individuals without appointments. Instead, she noted that staff members have been advised that they are “to use their own discretion in admitting unscheduled visitors.” The specific process by which staff members are to “vet” these visitors, however, will not be made public due to safety reasons.

 

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