Ohio campuses unite for security

The Ohio Board of Regents Task Force convened for the final time yesterday via video teleconference to discuss ways to improve and maintain statewide campus safety.

The task force has met twice before. The first time, in April, was to address the Virginia Tech tragedy and to divide into four focused work groups. The second time was in August to take immediate actions toward improving campus safety before the 2007-08 school year began.

Although immediate action has been taken to improve campus safety, the process should be never-ending and always progressing, said Eric Fingerhut, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents Task Force on Campus Safety, during yesterday’s teleconference.

By providing better mental health services for students and developing a method of tracking students who display disturbing behavior, future incidents will be less likely, said Jon Allison, chair of the prevention work group of the statewide task force.

Campus safety is important but so is the right to students’ privacy, said Sandra MacNevin, associate vice president of governmental affairs for the University.

“We don’t want this to be seen as a stigma,” MacNevin said. “People who need help will seek it out, we just want them to know there are health services available.”

Besides increasing the presence of mental health services on campus, Steve Dettelbach, chair of the response work group of the statewide task force, said more extensive police, student and faculty training must be provided. Dettelbach added the training process must be institutionalized in order to reach out to all corners of the campus, city and state.

Even if everybody is trained for an emergency situation, alerting students, faculty and law enforcement is essential to maintaining a safe campus, said Teri Geiger, chair of the communications work group of the statewide task force.

Bowling Green has been looking into emergency text messaging, where a message would notify students immediately in the event of an emergency. Only students who voluntarily provide their cell phone numbers would be notified.

According to MacNevin, the University has a few prospective text messaging vendors and will be making a decision this fall.

These security enhancements come with a large fee, and some universities and colleges will be searching for funding.

Some small campuses, such as the University’s Firelands campus, have less law enforcement and resources than larger universities and will need to make vast improvements. These improvements could be very costly, MacNevin said.

One way to get more money is by asking the government, said Mark Griffin, chair of the resources work group of the statewide task force.

“The state of Ohio should take steps to expand the use of the Homeland Security grant funds for campus safety,” Griffin said.

“The state should work with the federal Department of Homeland Security to clarify the use of grant funds for campus security purposes,” he said.

The Ohio Board of Regents Task Force on Campus Security was convened under the request of Gov. Strickland and will report the progress of the three meetings on Aug. 30.

Fingerhut said as long as Strickland approves, the Task Force on Campus Security will continue to meet in order to continuously maintain and improve campus safety. Fingerhut said he is anxious to get feedback from the governor and can’t imagine him objecting to future task force meetings.