Safety and security

OCR dear colleague letter prompts big change in sexual assault hearings at UNC

In perhaps the biggest campus change yet from a federal push for more accountability on sexual harassment allegations, North Carolina decides its unique student-run court is not fit for such hearings.

Counselor faculty consultations on rise since Virginia Tech

Five years after the tragic killings at Virginia Tech, counseling centers report that they are much more likely than in the past to hear from professors who are worried about a student.

Student's letter causes stir at UMass

Student hand-delivers a message asking for friendship, criticizing campus culture, and asking classmates to gather at a campus location. He didn't get reaction he was looking for.

Educators should not be armed in their classrooms (opinion)

Talking about gun violence is not something I enjoy doing. I am a psychology professor, and I specialize in the psychology of religion, human sexuality and certain aspects of personality. Those are domains in which I have some expertise. Those are things I am comfortable talking about. Gun violence is not one of those areas -- not by any stretch of the imagination. But there are times when all of us have to get uncomfortable, and it seems that my time has come.

I’ve only been in academe for about two years -- eight if you count my time as a graduate student and 12 if you count my time as an undergraduate. But in that time, I’ve learned that my life story and experiences are a little bit different from those of most college professors.

I was born and raised in a conservative family in the rural South, and, as you might imagine, that means that I was raised in the heart of gun culture. Growing up, I cannot recall a time when there were not at least 12 guns in the house; at many times there were more. I’ve been shooting since I was extremely young. I was comfortable handling a gun without supervision as a young teenager. At the age of 21, I applied for and received a concealed weapons permit in the Commonwealth of Virginia. For the next few years, I would carry my concealed .357 whenever I felt the need. Although I no longer have that permit and have no desire to ever have such a permit again, to this day I still own a number of guns, as I still shoot for sport at times.

On paper, this life story makes me seem the exactly type of person President Trump is referring to when he suggests that we incentivize some teachers to carry concealed weapons in classrooms. And while Trump has focused on elementary and secondary schools, some state legislators have proposed the same for college professors.

I -- a gun-owning, firearm-proficient white man -- am exactly the target demographic for National Rifle Association campaigns on increased gun ownership. However, it is exactly my experiences with guns that lead me to believe that this is a fundamentally absurd proposition. Indeed, some have argued that even engaging in this conversation is so patently absurd that it distracts from the real debate on appropriate gun control. Yet, even a few minutes on social media reveal that there seem to be millions of Americans that think that arming educators is a viable path forward. As someone with experience in the worlds of gun ownership and education, I am here to say that this is an impossible proposition.

My experiences with gun ownership generally and my past experiences as a concealed weapons permit holder specifically have taught me that carrying a firearm is fundamentally incompatible with being an invested educator. For me personally, carrying a firearm meant being constantly on guard. Carrying a firearm meant being fully aware of the status of that firearm at any given moment, being aware of potential threats in the environment around me and constantly evaluating whether or not I was going to need to use that weapon I had tucked away.

Carrying a gun meant estimating whether each and every person I interacted with was a threat I might need to neutralize. In short, for me -- and for countless other people who have carried or do carry a concealed weapon -- having a gun on your person means viewing the world as a much darker and more threatening place than you ordinarily would.

When students enter my classroom, they are trusting me to care for them, to teach them and to guide them forward. In this regard, they are my responsibility, and I view that responsibility as an almost sacred duty. However, I cannot look at my students as both young minds eager for education and potential threats I might need to eliminate. I cannot teach effectively or educate compassionately when I am on guard and wondering if I might need to take another human life that day. This proposition -- that some teachers need to be equipped and prepared to either educate or execute other human beings -- is plainly impossible.

I’m a junior professor in a Ph.D. program at a research university. On a very practical level, my position is clearly defined by the terms of my contract: 40 percent teaching, 40 percent research, 20 percent service. In many ways, my identity as an educator is reflected in that contract. At this point in time, there is no allocation for what percentage of my time is meant to be spent peacekeeping, enforcing or defending my students with firearms. I was not hired to be an enforcer, and no teacher I know of anywhere has been. If that is to be part of my job, then I would argue that it would have to come from some other aspect of what I do. I mean this in a much deeper way than in just in reference to my contract. Beyond changing the terms of my contract, to be an enforcer or protector would fundamentally change my identity as an educator.

At the end of the day, I don’t know what the solutions to our current crisis are. Banning firearms entirely is likely a fantasy for the foreseeable future and a reality that I don’t particularly want, either, but continuing as we are also seems impossible. In either case, however, asking teachers to take on the responsibility of being both educators and potential executioners is not a viable path forward.

Joshua Grubbs is an assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University.

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Two high school students killed in Florida had been admitted to college

Among those murdered were one student who had committed to attending the University of Indianapolis and another who was bound for Lynn University. Plus, past articles on colleges and national policies on gun violence.

Fires affect California colleges' finals, move-out, homework deadlines

Institutions affected by California wildfires juggle logistics of finals, move-out, assignment deadlines.

Police chief gets involved in faculty love triangle he’s supposed to investigate

The University of Cincinnati police chief was supposed to investigate threats stemming from an alleged affair between faculty members. Instead, an outside report says, he contacted the woman involved “well beyond any investigative imperative.”

What colleges should do to stop the tragedies that result from fraternity hazing (essay)

The terrible circumstances that led to the hazing-related death of Penn State freshman Timothy Piazza are tragic because they were completely avoidable. And they are frustrating because they have been replicated all too frequently. Indeed, the problems related to fraternities on campuses have gotten so bad that two major universities -- the University of Michigan and Florida State University -- have even gone so far as to suspend the social activities of fraternities and sororities or all Greek life entirely.

Twenty years ago this September, I arrived on the scene of a similar tragedy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a staff member of the national office for Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. A freshman, Scott Krueger, was in a coma after drinking nearly a fifth of a gallon of alcohol as part of a fraternity event where pledges were introduced to their pledge fathers (in some chapters they are referred to as big brothers). Drinking is part of such activities at colleges and universities virtually all of the time. Krueger passed out and was taken to his bed, where he was left until morning; he asphyxiated on his own vomit. By the time anyone checked on him, his skin had begun to turn blue. He died a few days later.

Plenty of outrage followed Krueger’s death, and some steps were taken. As part of a legal agreement following the tragedy, Phi Gamma Delta produced an educational video entitled “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” and distributed it to all of its chapters and other people who wished to view it. The fraternity also updated the video in 2008.

Apparently few members of Beta Theta Pi at Penn State viewed it -- or, at least, remembered any of its lessons. Apparently, few at Sigma Alpha Epsilon at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo did, either, back in 2008. Carson Starkey, a freshman pledge there, died from alcohol poisoning after being forced to drink a large amount of alcohol at a pledge event and being left alone to “sleep it off.”

I started the Society Advocating Fraternal Excellence to catalog public information regarding the good and bad about fraternities after reading about Starkey’s hazing death in California. The circumstances of his death were so similar to Krueger’s death at MIT that I realized little had been done to change the fraternity culture. Piazza’s death is a recent example, along with the death of Max Gruver at Louisiana State University.

It should be noted that none of these tragedies occurred as a result of anyone’s ill intent. No one woke up in the morning and said, “Let’s kill a pledge tonight.” College kids just don’t think it is going to happen to them. They think they are invincible.

Such terrible tragedies, which ruin lives and damage higher education, are a result of inadequate management. It is that simple. And the solution is stronger management and coaching by either university staff members, fraternity volunteers or a combination of both. The growth of these tragedies can be traced to the elimination of this management structure (in loco parentis) during the 1970s. Indeed, the national fraternity offices know that problems are few, if any, at those chapters where a good adviser is in place.

In fact, in those cases, the men excel and can create the type of environment any institution would want to have on their campus. They achieve academic success, have fun and support their institution. In contrast, at places with inadequate adult supervision, we find academic problems, out of control partying, sexual assault and even death.

Colleges and universities have made numerous attempts to create training programs or educational initiatives to change behavior and encourage better results. I would argue that few if any of them have achieved long-term success. Failure was not the result of poor intentions or an insincere desire to make change. It was due to the lack of alumni infrastructure to carry and sustain a message for longer than a few weeks or months.

As a comparison, if the University of Alabama allowed its football team to play a 12-game schedule without proper coaching, they might win some games. But they would not be as successful as they have been under the guidance of several adults with a vested interest in their success.

The other dirty little secret is that few students really know what they are joining when affiliating with a fraternity. The national fraternity headquarters and colleges or universities should provide more information on the behavior of fraternity chapters, such as each chapter’s average GPA and any violations of campus or national fraternity rules. Also, national fraternities should make available the field reports of their respective chapters. Such information would allow parents and their college-bound students the opportunity to make safer and more informed decisions about affiliating with a fraternity.

That is, in fact, the spirit behind a law passed recently in the state of South Carolina, the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act. Oh, yes, Hipps, a fraternity pledge, died there, too, in 2014, and again, there was plenty of outrage. Other legislative efforts are being pursued: a bill was introduced recently in the U.S. House of Representatives amending the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require colleges to report all incidents of hazing as part of their campus crime report. But while the fraternal industry’s trade group, the North American Interfraternity Conference, or NIC, supports the congressional legislation, it exempts its member groups from publicly reporting much of such information that would help parents and prospective pledges from making a more informed decision.

Most of the member groups of the NIC have field staff that travel to each of their respective chapters and file a report that includes all the information I have previously mentioned. Those reports can easily be converted to PDF files and made available at each fraternity’s national website, at the fraternal affairs section of colleges and universities websites, at the NIC’s website, or at all of them. Names of specific students or alumni could be redacted if necessary. Currently, the University of Arizona does an excellent job cataloging violations of campus policy by fraternities and documents the violating chapter’s status. Penn State University should also be commended for creating a “Greek Scorecard” as part of their plan to improve the safety of their system following Piazza’s death.

In sum, to try to reduce the likelihood of further tragedies, my two key recommendations are:

Colleges and universities should assess current alumni support of each fraternity group and require each chapter have a trained alumni adviser as a condition of maintaining its recognition with the institution. If no adviser exists for a chapter, the campus Greek affairs office should partner with the respective headquarters office to locate one. Many alumni never volunteer because they are not asked. Also, while many chapters have an adviser on paper, in my experience, many of them are not adequately engaged. If training programs are needed, either the NIC or the Association of Fraternity Advisers are excellent resources to develop a program focusing on adviser expectations, strategies to encourage fraternal excellence, housing quality and safety, risk management, and fostering academic achievement. Both the national fraternity and the college or university have a mutual interest in having a person of integrity and quality guiding or coaching these chapters.

Each fraternity would be required to publish key data online for viewing by parents and prospective pledges. The data would include, among other information:

  • chapter grade point average information and its relation to grade point averages of all men on campus and other fraternities’ grade point averages;
  • whether the chapter has an adviser credentialed by the national fraternity;
  • the number of men in the chapter;
  • the last chapter house safety inspection;
  • a list of any violations of campus or fraternity rules or policies; and
  • a list of awards and recognition. (Yes, many groups do many fantastic things.)

National fraternities should provide their field reports, as they contain much of this information. They could be made available online in a matter of days.

I have learned over 20 years of working with college fraternity men as a national headquarters staff member and volunteer that outrage has not saved any lives. Simply trying to abolish Greek life or regulate it to its demise is not the answer. Educational programs are good, but they will not succeed if they operate without the proper alumni engagement to sustain the message. Rather, strengthening the guidance that fraternities receive and providing good data will go a long way toward reducing problems -- including the terrible deaths resulting from irresponsible and stupid behavior.

Nick Altwies served the national fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta from 1990 to 2006 as a field secretary, director of programs and assistant executive director. He started the Society Advocating Fraternal Excellence to provide more material on fraternity chapters, enabling people to make informed decisions about joining a fraternity.

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Campus carry in spotlight after student fatally shoots police officer at Texas Tech

Texas Tech student was running afoul of new law, but critics of the pro-gun policy say officers should be the only ones with firearms, legally or not.

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