The Board of Governors (BOG) agreed Wednesday to send $18 million worth of campus security improvements to today’s budget committee meeting.
Three subcommittees, formed after the creation of Gov. Charlie Crist’s Task Force on University Campus Safety, have been compiling reports and information from the 11 public universities around the state since June 2007.
Govs. Frank Marin, Ava L. Parker and Arlen Chase presented revised plans to enhance campus security through improved emergency notification, additional funding for campus police departments and additional faculty training to recognize at-risk students.
Meeting chair Gov. Tico Perez emphasized the importance of campus safety, despite recent budget cuts facing universities.
“The task force has been charged with creating an environment of safety on campus. This is not dependent on the state of the economy either this year or next,” he said.
While the committee recognized the realistic limitations of the state’s current financial shortcomings, the March 21 shootings at Florida A & M refocused the BOG’s priorities.
“We’ll deal with the budgetary crisis when we can but priorities have to be made. We have 380,000 students and 3,000 buildings to protect,” Perez said.
Representatives from the University of Florida (UF) and the University of West Florida were on hand to present recent emergency notification improvements designed to protect the lives of students and staff in case of an emergency.
UF has implemented new software called GEOCAST, capable of notifying predetermined groups of people of a campus emergency via text message. Although GEOCAST is capable of reaching more than 50,000 members of the university community, the program took more than five minutes to perform a test alert of only 18 phones during a demonstration at Wednesday’s meeting.
The board also addressed the lack of a dedicated emergency management coordinator. Only five of the 11 Florida public universities have such a position. If and when such a position is created, the coordinator will work to obtain grant funding for improving their respective universities’ emergency notification system as well as serve as a point of contact for the issue.
Chief Thomas Longo, head of the USF police department, chaired the committee on policing and safety of Florida’s college campuses. Longo’s report focused on the need for an increased police presence on campuses around the state.
“We try to reduce the anxiety level so (students) can think about scholarship and success rather than their safety,” he said.
The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators recommends a minimum of two officers to every 1,000 students. USF employs 41 officers for approximately 37,000 students, a ratio of about one to 900. While Longo acknowledged current budget restraints, he insisted that an increase in officers was necessary.
“We appreciate what the BOG is doing, to try to get more resources into our department,” he said.
While Longo stressed the benefits reducing the student to officer ratio would bring, he emphasized the importance of keeping university police departments financially competitive.
“Officers are getting experience with UPD and moving on to another agency for more pay. We want to be competitive within our own regions,” he said.
The final task force recommendation was to increase training for faculty and improve the flow of information between SUS universities to better identify potentially violent students. The committee, headed by Chase, was only one of the items presented that would have no financial impact if passed by a full BOG meeting. The task force recommended a training program to teach faculty how to handle disruptive, potentially dangerous students. The committee also proposed the installation of an emergency extension in all faculty members’ phones.
Chase’s committee findings suggested the sharing of information about dangerous students within the SUS and local law enforcement agencies. The motion however, would face significant challenges due to Florida’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
The current statute states that “The University discloses education records without a student’s prior written consent under the FERPA exception for disclosure to school officials with legitimate educational interests.”
Board members said they would make an additional study of FERPA to see if any changes need to be suggested to the Legislature. While all recommendations of the task force were approved, Florida’s 11 state universities suspended all plans to increase security until the budget committee met today at 8 a.m.
The BOG’s Web site hosts a webcast of all sessions at flbog.org.