March 14, 2011
Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed two incidents that garnered attention and headlines: A Feb. 14 gun firing in front of the Keathley University Center and a March 2 stabbing between roommates in an off-campus apartment.
These recent events were not random acts of violence; they were disagreements between people who knew each other that led to violent acts between them. Fortunately, the February incident was quickly defused and resulted in a minor injury. Sadly, however, one of our student athletes was lost in the off-campus stabbing in March.
The cumulative impact of these events, combined with our use of the alert system to warn about recent matters of concern in nearby areas, has caused some to wonder whether incidents such as these are common occurrences on our campus.
It's said that perception is nine-tenths of reality. With regard to the question of student safety, perception by some may have overshadowed the fact that MTSU is a safe place to work, study, and visit.
Ironically, part of this perception has arisen from the very safeguards we have put in place to make our campus as safe as possible. We have improved and increased the alert system use to keep our community aware of incidents on our campus and the city neighborhoods that surround us. These alerts, mandated by the federal Clery Act, are to keep you abreast about real or perceived safety concerns so that you can make informed decisions.
We are an open, 515-acre campus, without borders and gates, connected to and surrounded by the city of Murfreesboro. We partner with and rely upon the efforts by local law enforcement to keep safe the neighborhoods that surround us. The City of Murfreesboro is working with area residents and property owners adjacent to the campus to address recent safety issues.
Almost every major campus encounters similar challenges with safety and no university president or city mayor can guarantee a crime-free environment. With more than 30,000 students, faculty and staff, MTSU is the size of many towns and communities in Tennessee. Our university community brings with it many of the same qualities found in the general population.
We should not allow these two senseless acts of violence to distort our views about life and safety at our University. We consider our role in creating and maintaining a safe campus environment to be among our highest priorities. It requires constant attention, which we are providing and refining.
We also see an opportunity in all of this to develop ways to teach our community how to resolve disagreements peacefully. I am pursuing a campus-wide initiative to educate and train our students on conflict resolution and mediation.
Our duty to keep you informed
The federal Clery Act requires universities like MTSU to notify our campus communities if there is the possibility of danger stemming from incidents on or near campus. We want people to be informed so that they can make the best decisions about protecting themselves, remaining vigilant and watching out for one another.
For this reason, incidents that occur in adjacent neighborhoods off campus are considered worthy of alert because of their proximity to MTSU. While we do not want to unduly cause alarm, we would rather err on the side of caution by alerting our community to a potentially dangerous situation than to stand by idly. These notification requirements may have falsely led some to the feeling that crime is on the rise on campus.
Advances in electronic media now make it possible to utilize a number of platforms to deliver these messages. The question has been asked: What is the difference between sending text messages, e-mails and voice alerts (phone calls) or just sending e-mails?
If University officials believe that there is a credible threat to the campus and the threat is imminent, we will usually utilize three modes of communication - text messages, e-mails and voice alerts - to expeditiously reach the members of our community with an immediate notification.
If, however, a threat is considered to represent a potential, but not necessarily imminent, threat to the campus, the University will nearly always utilize e-mail alone to provide a timely warning to our students, staff and faculty.
This is an important distinction: Immediate notifications urge people to take a specific action to avoid or minimize a threat. Timely warnings inform people of situations and encourage them to be vigilant. All of these decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, and they are judgment calls made by our law-enforcement and University officials.
Several campus safety enhancements are in place
MTSU also has its own police force, which is on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This full-service force provides patrol, investigations, crime-prevention training and records management. My wife and I live on campus, and when I drive around the University, I have been pleased to see our officers on patrol at all hours. Our department will continue to adjust and enhance patrol procedures and techniques as needed.
In recent months, we have made many enhancements to improve campus safety:
We also benefit from longstanding ties with local law enforcement. We are fortunate to have outstanding working relationships with both the Murfreesboro Police Department and the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department, who assist us in keeping our campus community safe.
Special attention to our on-campus housing
More than 3,200 students, and in some cases, their families, make their homes in our 21 residence halls and apartments on campus. Obviously, we have more influence over safety in these facilities than where students live away from campus.
Every residential area has a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week desk operation, where students can report suspicious behavior, voice concerns or speak with a staff member. Each of these areas also has a full-time, live-in, Master's-level area coordinator, who is supported by a live-in resident director and a resident assistant staff. Each area also has an assigned "Adopt-a-Cop."
Residential facilities without a centralized lobby or 24-hour desk operation are locked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can only be opened by either a student-room key or using a special card-swipe reader.
Video cameras are strategically placed in specific locations throughout the residential areas to record activity for later use if needed.
Creating and maintaining a safe campus is a partnership effort
We will continue to review our safety practices to make sure we are taking every possible precaution. We ask that all of us keep in mind our roles and responsibilities in making safe decisions for own behavior. We all must understand that we live in a complex world and conflict can happen without warning. Creating and maintaining a safe campus environment requires a partnership between parents, students, faculty and staff.
I wish to thank Murfreesboro Mayor Tommy Bragg and Police Chief Glenn Chrisman for reaching out to us and working on plans to increase awareness and focus upon areas adjacent to campus. We at MTSU appreciate our collaboration and partnership with the city.
Our campus is a microcosm of our society. I strongly feel we must do a better job teaching people how to resolve conflicts without violence. To that end, I am forming a University-wide committee that will develop a series of programs on conflict resolution and mediation. This training will be offered during Customs, our orientation process for incoming freshmen and their parents, and as part of a semester-long freshmen orientation course. I will keep you posted on our progress.
You can rest assured that whether you attend school, work here or have a son or daughter enrolled, our unfailing vigilance is for one purpose: Ensuring that the MTSU campus is not just a wonderful academic setting in which to pursue dreams, but also a safe place to study and work.
Sidney A. McPhee, President, Middle Tennessee State University
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