Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Colleges Rethink Security in Wake of Arizona Shooting ; the Incident Last Week Reinforces the Need for Good Communication between University Faculty and Police

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Colleges Rethink Security in Wake of Arizona Shooting ; the Incident Last Week Reinforces the Need for Good Communication between University Faculty and Police

Article excerpt

Sitting in her small office amid textbooks on the ancient Romans and Greeks, Alison Futrell expresses a thoroughly modern fear: that she or other University of Arizona instructors could face a repeat of the violence that struck here last week, when a despondent student gunned down three nursing college professors before killing himself.

"I realize that the odds are very much against a similar situation occurring again," says Dr. Futrell, who teaches history on the sprawling, 34,000-student campus. "But I'm at a loss whether there's anything the university can do to safeguard against this kind of act."

Similar concerns are heard across the nation, as colleges struggle to protect themselves from attacks like the one perpetrated here by Robert Flores, a Gulf War veteran and struggling student.

Despite statistics showing that such incidents are rare on campuses, several recent acts of violence have generated much attention: In August, a professor and student were killed in a murder-suicide at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. In May, a gunman shot a professor before killing himself at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. And in January, a failing student opened fire, killing the dean, a teacher, and another student at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va.

These attacks have prompted universities to reexamine their approaches to keeping violence in check. "In spite of the safety nets that we set up on campus, a handful of individuals can fall through that protective net," says John Megerson, police director at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, and an official with the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

At the same time, campuses tread a fine line between security and academic freedom. College police departments have grown increasingly sophisticated over the past decade, and their arsenals include everything from night-vision goggles and high-powered rifles to pepper spray. But schools that go too far "can wind up creating a quasi-police state, where going to classrooms and dormitories is like going through airport security checkpoints," says Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education. …

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