I respect education because it is better to learn from other’s mistakes than to suffer them yourself. That said, it seems particularly hard for academics to incorporate new ideas on campus. A shining example of this shortcoming is violence on campus. College administrators keep doing the same old thing as long as students keep paying to risk rape and robbery.
Let me describe this safety problem in unfamiliar terms.
You manage a large industrial site. People and materials come on and off the site every day. One-out-of-twenty of your female employees and customers will be sexually assaulted each year. They will be assaulted on your property as well as nearby as they move on and off your site. Your employees, your customers and your suppliers will also be robbed by fellow employees and by outside criminals who enter your property.
A five-percent injury rate with multiple days-lost from work would shut down most private job sites. That level of injury due to criminal activity and employer negligence is simply unacceptable for a commercial firm. Unfortunately, this injury rate is treated as the cost of doing business for public colleges and universities.
For perspective, the combined illness and injury rate for all private employers is about half the rate of sexual assault on women as reported by US colleges and universities.
This safety problem persists on campus because of the conflict between ideology and reality. If strangers enter your property to rob your employees, then you establish a secure physical boundary. You would certainly do that at home and you’d do that most other places you work. You’d badge people onto and off of your property. You’d install security cameras.
Those are the sorts of things you do…unless you’re working in the ivory tower and surrounded by ivy-covered inertia.
Industry faces risk to their employees on the job every day. In that setting, you require your staff to work in teams when they are in a known hazardous location…like traveling near the college library at night…or walking to their car in the dark parking lot. At an industrial plant, maybe you’ll have to close that section of the facility (the campus) when you don’t have sufficient staff to insure the physical safety of your workers (students and staff). Said another way, you’d restrict library and lab hours if you don’t have campus cops in place.
Those are the simple safety measures we see when employers are held responsible for injuries on their property. We don’t see these safety measures adopted on a college campus.
As an employer, you would also encourage your employees to wear personal protection equipment. It would be a term of employment in some work situations. You want your employees to wear eye-protection when they work with power tools at home, but you’d require it on the job site. You’d hire security personnel to safely escort your employees onto and off of your work site. It happens every day in industry. Universities do it for a football game on the weekend, but they don’t put on extra security staff for the graduate student walking to the parking garage late at night.
On campus, it is entirely acceptable to hand out free condoms to teenage freshman, but it is not “acceptable” to allow licensed adults to carry their legal firearm on campus for their personal protection. On some campuses, even faculty and staff can’t have pepper spray.
Think about that for a minute. We’re telling the future leaders of our country…and their instructors…that we don’t trust them with a can of pressurized spice in their pocket or purse.
Other organizations have solved much harder security problems than the ones faced by colleges and universities, yet academic institutions remain unsafe year after year. This isn’t a problem of technology. It isn’t even a problem of manpower and cost. It is a problem of ideology and will. Administrators will ignore the number of sexual assaults and robberies on campus until students choose to get their education someplace safer.
There was a time when we accepted deaths and injuries when we built large-scale industrial plants or as we worked in mines. We don’t do that any longer. It is time to re-examine our assumptions about unsafe campuses.
The academics need our help when it comes to violence on campus. There are psychological reasons they can’t see the issue clearly. We’ll talk about that in another post.