Job One:
Making a safe place to teach and learn

(02-28-2008)

Opinion by Dr. David Svaldi, president of Adams State College

The beat goes on, with Northern Illinois University the most recent example of senseless and inexplicable violence at an American university. These tragedies not only tear bright and promising young people from life, but also erode the sense of security we sometimes take for granted. At Adams State College we have taken several steps to make our campus the safest environment possible for teaching and learning.

Most recently, we purchased an electronic notification system that will allow us to send nearly instantaneous text messages and emails to students, faculty, and staff who subscribe to the service. While our most likely use of the "Gizzly Alert" system might be notifying the campus community of a weather-related closure, we can also swiftly alert the campus of a violent offender in their midst. We urge students, faculty, and staff to follow the simple steps to participate in the alert system. Sign up for Alert.

Over the last two years, our Board of Trustees significantly increased resources and staffing in our Public Safety Department. We have also strengthened our partnership with local law enforcement agencies and recently cooperated with them in a trial run of our crisis response plan. The generosity of the Associated and Students and Faculty Senate allowed us to install several emergency phones across campus, and we are examining the cost of increasing lighting on campus.

These security measures complement a renewed focus on students' mental health needs. Adams State is one of two Colorado colleges selected to develop a pilot program under the Higher Education Suicide Prevention Act. The act permits universities in Colorado to offer students the choice of designating a contact person and authorize school personnel to contact that person if they believe the student is in danger of self-harm.

Also new this year is Adams State's "Students of Concern" task force, which provides early intervention for students who are struggling mentally, emotionally, academically, or behaviorally.

All America colleges and universities are vulnerable, and as John G. Peters, president of Northern Illinois University, said, it is impossible to protect a university against all possible events.

Sure, we could make campuses safer by installing metal detectors at each entrance, increasing the obvious presence of armed guards through patrols, and perhaps even erecting watchtowers. We could even secure the campus perimeter with a wall or electrified fence. But then, what would we have?-certainly not a college, but something that more closely resembles a prison.

The very soul of a college is the freedom explicit in the flow of traffic between the campus and its surrounding community. This is a metaphor for the unencumbered flow of ideas that is so crucial to the life of a democracy. In fact, Adams State's Mission Statement directs us to enhance the intellectual, economic, and cultural life of our greater community.

A free and open society comes with risks. Adams state makes the safety of our students, faculty, and staff a top priority. But we also acknowledge there is no way to completely eliminate threats. We trust that the vast majority of students and community members are good individuals who wish for the best of their families and friends. We ask everyone to join us in making the ASC neighborhood a safe place by reporting suspicious activities and crimes in progress to 587-7901 or 911.