Thursday, April 19, 2007

Crime On America's Campuses

Hat-tip to KuhnKat, who sent me this article via email. The article in its entirety (emphases mine):
Campus Crimes: Politicians Don't Like the Stats
Doug Wead
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What politician would dare favor covering up crime on university campuses? Answer? Almost all of them, Democrat and Republican. This was the startling fact I accidentally stumbled onto during my stint as a Special Assistant to the President in the White House of George Hebert Walker Bush. It all came rushing back as the Virginia Tech story unfolded this week.

It was 1989 and the so-called victim's rights activists were at the top of their game, trying to force a change. Specifically, they wanted universities to be required by law to report crimes on campus. The idea was that discerning parents would not shell out big bucks to send their sons and daughters to campuses that were unsafe. It would force the universities to hire security and install more cameras and put in place emergency measures that cost money. They would be in competition with each other to have safer campuses. A no brainer right? Who would be against that?

Well, the universities themselves were against it and shamelessly lobbied congress and the White House. The Democrats were intimidated. After all, the world of academia was their base for votes, ideas, money and eager student volunteers.

And the Republicans, always so strong against crime? Well, the liberal eggheads at the universities were no dummies. They appealed to the conservative instincts of Republican politicians arguing against "regulations and federal interference." In what has to be the height of liberal academic hypocrisy they pointed out that excessive regulation had strangled small businesses and shouldn't now be fostered onto them. Let the free market place sort out the problems. Government isn't needed. Hmmmm. Right.

In 1989 HR 3344 was introduced in congress, requiring universities to report their crime statistics. My boss, President George Herbert Walker Bush, I was told, was against it.

And then one day, into my White House office walked Frank Carrington, the so called father of victim's rights. He brought with him Howard and Connie Clery and they stood trembling, telling me the story of how their daughter Jeanne was raped and murdered at Lehigh University.

According to the Clery's the murderer was a fellow student, like the killer at Virginia Tech. In fact, most campus crime, I learned, comes from fellow students. There were no security patrols in the dorms. It was a zoo. Survival of the fittest. The Lehigh murderer reportedly had a violent past but was nevertheless awarded a scholarship by the University. All of this according to the Clery congressional testimony.

There was not much chance for the legislation. Only the relentless Frank Carrington and the Clery's cared. I listened to their story and felt their helplessness. And we all stood in my office and cried together as they talked about their daughter but what to do about it?

And then I had an idea. I was hosting a West Wing, Roosevelt Room meeting with the president and law enforcement leaders that week and told the Clery's to join us. A few days later I rehearsed them, telling them that I would be asking each person around the table to speak and when I got to them they should blurt out their story to the president. I knew my president. Statistics seldom moved him but personal experience never failed to touch his heart.

They blurted and he changed his position within days. But the bill that was finally passed and signed into law a year later was a significantly diluted piece of legislation.

I waited and watched for reports on which campuses were safe and which were not. Which one would be the murder capital of universities? But such reports never materialized. Magazines routinely listed universities according to academics but surely most discerning parents would sacrifice a level or two in favor of saving their child's life?

The fact was that the same forces that had so long resisted the passage of the bill in the first place were still at work. I would learn that the universities would routinely cheat on their numbers and the local police would often look the other way. The universities, with their hundreds of teachers all registered to vote, were powerful institutions with an enormous impact on local politics. They had a symbiotic relationship with the police whose loyalty was to the university administration, not to students passing through their town and their parents who lived far away.

And then finally, predictably, the paperwork was buried by a cumbersome, constipated complicit federal bureaucracy.

So what good did the bill really do? How can you stop something as pernicious as this? Might as well declare greed illegal. The fact is that no one has a reason to push for university accountability except for the occasional random victim like the Clerys who stood and clung to their daughter's picture as they wept in my White House office that day long ago.

And all of this came rushing back to me when the events unfolded at Virginia Tech. The delay to report the first murders. And the defensive account of why they delayed. The university and the police, standing side by side, each reinforcing the other lest someone dare say the unthinkable, that the reputation of the university was a factor. That the hope that the first murders could be contained or its impact diminished without too much harm. That the goal of being a top thirty research institution by 2010 would still be realized. That the danger of e-mails home to parents announcing the crime could be avoided if at all possible. The ugly word "public relations" was never mentioned. But no one needed to say it. Every university is only one lawsuit away from being thrown off budget.

The story of Virginia Tech is much different than the story of Columbine, a public school. The fact is that students live at a university and are even more vulnerable. And accountability can make a difference. HR 3344 [link], however anemic has had some modest impact. And maybe now this will be the catalyst for something with teeth. But there is no money behind it. Only people. Little people. Torn by their grief. Reluctant to fault the place they once trusted with their children's future, the place they cheered for on the gridiron. It is hard to let go of all of that and admit that anything more may be at work.

There was a real irony in the Howard and Connie Clery story. They had two sons who went to Tulane. And there had allegedly been several rapes near the campus. So at the brother's urging, the family opted for the peaceful, pastoral setting of Lehigh for their sister Jeanne. But what they didn't know and were never told was that there had been 38 violent crimes on campus between 1984 and 1986. Over 50 percent of these crimes were committed by Lehigh students, and that's a college of 4,000 undergraduates on an 800-acre campus.

So Jeanne Clery went to Lehigh University. And to her death. It was very close to home. But as it turned out that wasn't good enough. No place is safe. Not even home.
Has even a single news story over the past several days of saturation news-coverage mentioned any of what Doug Wead includes in the above essay? A lot of blame has been dished out over the past several days, but has any of that blame pointed to what Mr. Wead has written of in the above essay?

Now is the time for mourning the senseless loss of 32 murdered Virginia Tech students. We must take the time to grieve and to pay tribute to lives cut short. But when the days of immediate grief have passed, it's way past time to hold universities accountable for reporting crime statistics on and near their campuses. Requiring full disclosure of crime statistics on our nation's campuses should have nothing to do with party lines. Wallowing in news stories, recriminations, and finger-pointing won't get the job done.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Always On Watch @ 4/19/2007 07:17:00 AM