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Policies assessed

April 24th, 2007

In the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, many universities are re-examining their school safety and security policies. The policies are as varied as the institutions. It is crucial that such policies are not placeboes, or worse, counterproductive. Universities need policies that will generate safety, not delusions of safety.
Some public schools, such as the University of Akron, require students to declare if they have a criminal record during the application process. The university does a background check on students who acknowledge their criminal records.
Other institutions are likely to adopt similar processes as a result of the call for increased safety. What will schools do with this information? Will it allow them to target students and prevent crimes? That seems unlikely. Virginia Tech was well aware of safety concerns regarding Cho Seung-Hui, but other legal protections prevented them from taking preventive action. Background checks don’t appear to fix that situation. However, they do cause a loss of privacy for students.
One of the major differences between public and private colleges is how they are permitted to deal with students. Public schools must follow state guidelines and cannot expel a student unless they severely violate the student code of conduct or commit a serious offense. Private institutions can ask a student to leave, or expel a student even if they do not commit an illegal act.
Both public and private schools need policies that allow them to provide safety while protecting liberty. It is a very difficult challenge, but it is one John Carroll University must address