Nearly two weeks ago, USF unveiled a five-year plan for the University that has been labeled bold and audacious by experts. The plan’s overview points to five major aspects of progress: student success, integrated interdisciplinary inquiry, research and innovation, community engagement, and global literacy and impact. The University reiterated its desire to become one of the nation’s elite research universities. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the dozens of signs littering campus, boasting of USF’s status as one of the top three research schools in the state.
It wasn’t the content of the report that came as a surprise to me, but rather what was not addressed within it. No mention was made, even under the section titled “Building Healthy Communities,” about student and campus safety. It is an unusual omission, especially in light of the local media’s attempts to expose how unprepared the school is to handle a major emergency and attention of the Virginia Tech shooting that took place last April.
There was important local news that needed to be shared early in the semester. A serial rapist, who has still not been caught, had been targeting victims in the communities around USF. Naturally, the question arose as to why the school had not alerted the student body of the threat days after the attacks had occurred, despite an onslaught of media coverage.
The official answer was that since he had not attacked anyone on the USF campus, it was not USF’s duty to inform students.
But USF is a commuter school, so to say he has not struck on campus and therefore does not pose a threat to our student body doesn’t fit.
There is also a good chance that some students live in the areas the rapist has targeted. Does the school’s commitment to student safety vanish once a person drives north, past Fletcher on Bruce B. Downs? If nothing else, it seems odd that the school’s desire to build “healthy communities” does not apply to the surrounding neighborhoods that call themselves part of Bulls Country.
It seems logical that alerting the roughly 50,000 people on campus would lead to a much more rapid capture of the rapist. It’s the same logic used in Amber Alerts.
On the evening after the story ran in the Oracle, a community crime alert e-mail was sent that offered tips on staying safe and provided a link to the University Police (UP) description of the criminal.
On that same day, a panel found Virginia Tech to be at fault for not properly warning students after the first murders on that horrific day.
It’s still unclear why the USF administration hesitated to alert the student body.
Ken Gullette, USF director of media relations, told an Oracle reporter, “We don’t want students to be afraid to drive to the school.”
So, to get this straight: Gulette thinks ignoring a threat is a much better scenario for public relations than making students aware of a potential danger.
This seeming lack of concern toward student safety is manifested in less extreme ways. Since the beginning of school, the bicycles of more than 30 students have been stolen. Computers have been taken from classrooms in broad daylight. I am now in my third semester at USF, and I have not once been asked to show my Student ID to validate my status to any security personnel.
Anyone can wander in or out of the library, or any other building where students gather, unchecked. In the first week of school this semester, two separate classes I am in had students not enrolled in the course sitting in the back passing time. So how secure is the school? As it stands now, the Bloodmobile has a more significant presence on campus than UP does.
However, UP cannot be blamed. It is well known they are underfunded and understaffed. In fact, patrol officers serving in UP deserve special recognition, as they make less money than entry-level officers in either the Tampa Police Department or the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department.
Funded for 48 officers, UP is operating with only 40, unable to fill the other eight openings with the competition of neighboring law enforcement agencies.
USF made its true priorities clear when it released the five-year plan. It appears US News & World Report rankings and corporate dollars garnered by calls for research are more immediate in the minds of our leadership.
Unfortunately for USF, students and parents in the United States are not swayed solely by academic success when considering a college, but also whether the school provides a safe environment.
Curtiss Gibson is a senior
majoring in creative writing.