Protecting Faculty at Temple: The Aftermath of the October 29th Assault in Anderson Hall
By Steve Newman, Editor
Like every other Temple faculty I’ve spoken with, I was deeply disturbed by the brutal attack on Prof. Gopal Veeraswamy , an 81-year old faculty member in Mosaic, on October 29th in the middle of the day while he was in his office in Anderson Hall. To discuss the case and the university’s response, I emailed Acting Executive Director of Public Safety, Charles Leone, and in his reply he generously suggested that we talk face-to-face to explore these issues in a more substantive way.
In response to my first question, about the health of Prof. Veeraswamy, Mr. Leone said that Public Safety was adhering to the family’s request for privacy. As for the alleged perpetrator, Darryl Moon, how he got into Anderson is still under investigation and he had not at the time of my exchanges with Mr. Leone on November 7th and 9th entered a plea on the many charges against him, including aggravated assault, robbery, theft, and making terroristic threats.
The question now before us is how to increase security without becoming Fortress Temple, an outcome that Mr. Leone agreed would be unacceptable both because of the inconvenience it would pose to students, faculty, and staff and because we need to remain accessible to our neighbors.
An attack like this in an academic building is extremely rare, Executive Director Leone told me, and showed me statistics from the last year that indicated that no other crime of this sort has happened this year, and he could not remember a similar case. Most of the crime in university buildings—and it occurs more often in dorms than in academic buildings—is property crime, and violent crime typically occurs between students. Through October, he informed me, crime is down 13% overall and 20% on campus, though, Mr. Leone added, “When something like this happens to a professor, it’s not like people feel 20% safer if we tell them that. The reality if what people see, what they feel, and what they know.”
So what steps does Temple plan to take to enhance security? President Theobald has announced that security is being integrated into the campus Master Plan, which will be released in early 2014. But what changes have already been made, and what is being planned in the near term?
The first task is to deal with the problematic architecture of Anderson and Gladfelter, referring here not to their shocking ugliness and sterility, but the challenge their multiple entrances and exits pose to security. To control access through the misbegotten plaza above the ground floor, officers have been posted to ensure that no one gets in when someone goes out; signage has also been added to discourage this. An extra security person has already been added to handle the increased flow during rush periods. “It’s tricky,” Mr. Leone observed, since Anderson “was made mostly for administrative use and faculty offices… and then we had the classroom wing added on and we’re using space in the upper floors for classrooms, too.” Public Safety has met with Facilities Management and the Fire Marshall to see “what we can do within the code to make things more secured.” In the next few months, the plan is to add alarms to the doors leading to the plaza, and for the exits in Anderson that lead directly to the street, the plan is to make them “delayed egress,” which means that they will open only if the fire alarm is tripped or with enough pressure for a certain amount of time, but this will trip an alarm. Mr. Leone assured me that the plan is in its final stages, and these new measures will mean that there will be only one regular entrance and exit in Anderson and Gladfelter. This may lead to increased traffic, but in this case it seems a necessity to make these buildings safer.
This, according to Mr. Leone, is Public Safety’s aim for all academic buildings—“single entrance points and all of the other doors to be for emergency egress only.” When I brought up the swipe system at the Law School, mentioned by a colleague on the Faculty Senate Steering Committee, Mr. Leone said that installing such a system campus-wide is “our goal. We did a test program in the Tech Center for the past few years…. It seems to be working well. We’re looking for a similar set up in all the buildings where we can have you come in, swipe your ID card, and your picture comes up. If you forget your ID, we have a separate terminal and you go over and put in your access net and password, and then as soon as they hit enter, their picture pops up on the screen. It also gives you a reminder, please remember your id next time. And the security guard sees that picture and can verify the student’s identity. We do something similar in the residence halls, but we also want to bring it to the academic buildings.”
One building that has concerned me is Barton Hall, given that there is no security at any of the many entrances and given that the labs there house many dangerous materials. Mr. Leone informed me that he has a roving security person patrolling Barton and that they have not had any issues with security in the building as yet, though he is looking to make it safer along with the other buildings on campus. He says he would be in favor of reducing the number of entrances to one if it could be accomplished without too great of a sacrifice of convenience.
Another topic that has been raised at the FSSC and elsewhere is what faculty should do if a student becomes aggressive in class or in one’s office. While the student Code of Conduct mentions the sanctions for student-on-student aggression, we on the FSSC have found nothing dedicated to protecting faculty. Mr. Leone encourages faculty to focus on dealing with troubled students before they act out, directing them to the materials on civility put out by the Tuttleman Counseling Center and encouraging them to contact their department chairs or the counseling center or Public Safety if they see any warning signs. I then asked what faculty should do if they miss these signs—or if there are none—or if their prior attempts at intervening fail and a student becomes belligerent or actually assaults them. Could panic buttons or the like be installed in classrooms? Given that wifi is now available all over campus, Mr. Leone said that instead Public Safety is considering an application for smart phones that would allow a faculty member to instantly contact the police with the push of a button. Of course, Mr. Leone agreed, faculty would need to keep their cell phones charged; I would add that this also assumes that all faculty have such phones—probably true of the vast majority of us, but almost certainly not true of everyone—and that the wifi is operative.
I also asked Mr. Leone about the possible effects of Decentralized Budgeting on security—he feels pretty sure that it will lead to no ill effects—and, at the suggestion of one of my colleagues, queried him about the organizational structure at Temple, which lacks a Vice President for Security, as Penn has. Mr. Leone replied that he is happy with the structure at Temple, since he reports directly to a Senior Vice President (Jim Creedon) and President Theobald has been very supportive, adding that the VP for Security at Penn also has to tend to the fire marshals there, while here they report to Facilities Management.
We concluded with some final thoughts about security at Temple. I noted in a conversation after the assault in Anderson that a Temple colleague and friend on fellowship in Jerusalem, warned against pursuing the myth of 100% security. This again points to the need for Temple to remain as open as possible to the community and, I added, to avoid the abuses of profiling. Mr. Leone agreed with this and noted that when they recruit officers, they make sure that they understand what it means to work in a university setting and that while enforcement is part of the job, they need to spend a great deal of their time community building.
So it appears that plans are underway to enhance security for faculty and everyone else in the Temple community while looking to balance safety with convenience and accessibility. But questions remain: How can we ensure that the proper accommodations are made for people with disabilities? What about security on the other campuses, which present their own challenges? How can we work with security to make sure that Temple does not turn into the equivalent of a prison?
Just as our police officers must remain vigilant, so must we faculty members do our part to make sure that these plans are realized and these values are preserved. •
We should also avail ourselves of the resources that our Public Safety office provides for faculty. Mr. Leone is particularly keen that we know of The Walking Escort program on Main Campus. From 4:00 p.m to 6:00 a.m., faculty members on Main Campus can be furnished with a security escort from any location within this area—East-West: 9th to 16th Street; North-South: Oxford Avenue-Dauphin Street. For phone number and more info, follow this link. Faculty on the Health Sciences Campus can call 204-1234 for a police escort.