Campus crime will be the decade's most challenging task for college and university student affairs officers, a University of Florida official said Wednesday.
"Be realistic about campus crime and awareness. We have a lot of work to do in that regard," said Art Sandeen, vice president for student affairs at Florida.
Sandeen has a unique perspective on the issue. He was at Florida in 1990 when five college students were found murdered near the Gainesville campus.
"This crisis revealed the obvious truth, in my opinion, about our society," Sandeen told a group of about 150 Kansas University staff members. "We are all vulnerable to the irrational actions of an individual who can almost paralyze a campus community in a short period of time."
Sandeen was invited to KU by the office of student affairs to talk to staff members about dealing with campus crime.
SANDEEN SAID the presence of large law enforcement agencies and the implementation of campus safety awareness programs won't stop a mass murderer.
"We should not fool ourselves or our students into thinking we are immune to such problems," he said. "These murders, I believe, could have happened anywhere in America."
Sandeen said it was troublesome to learn that within several weeks of the five students' deaths, many students didn't want to deal with the issue.
"Even on our campus this group of students . . . say, `OK, I'll lock my door. Sure, I'll walk on campus at 11 o'clock at night by myself. I don't have to worry about that. I'll go to that parking lot . . . at 10 o'clock at night,'" he said.
The five bodies were discovered in apartments near campus during the course of three days in August 1990 just as the fall semester began. When grisly details of the murders were reported, students became anxious about their safety.
A SUSPECT has been arrested in the murders, but he hasn't gone on trial.
"The crisis caused much fear among students," he said. "The sense of vulnerability increased tremendously."
He said there was pressure from parents and government officials to close the university for the semester. University officials resisted that move.
"We were determined not to be held hostage by this situation," he said. "At the same time, we were concerned about liability. We couldn't guarantee the safety of students."
The university responded by organizing a Crisis Committee, holding press conferences for more than 200 reporters, meeting with parents of the victims and 30 student groups, increasing campus police security, setting up a rumor control center, providing a 24-hour escort service, publishing safety rules and offering free sleeping quarters on campus.
TO COMMUNICATE more information, the university sent 35,000 letters to the parents of Florida University students to explain what the university was doing.
"I believe that even the appearance of any closed special group of decision makers in a crisis like this does not contribute at all," Sandeen said.
Sandeen offered ideas to help others handle a campus crisis.
No written plan can be adequate to handle complex situations. Flexibility must be retained, he said.
Sandeen said it's essential for university officials to have close ties to the community in advance of a problem.
Don't overlook those affected by a crisis, he said. Florida officials focused initially on students and overlooked faculty and staff.
Involve student leaders in all decisions and accommodate the press. Closing the process to anyone and coming across as uncooperative can have negative results, Sandeen said.