The Senate has approved without dissent a measure that requires the disclosure of campus crime statistics and campus security measures.
As president of a small public liberal arts college, I am deeply concerned with the health and development of our students. Any reasonable activity that will add to their protection, and the safety of employees as well, gets my vote.As we know, college students are not immune from acts of violence. Nor have colleges just awakened to the fact that the concentration of young and naive adults on campuses may provide an attractive target for criminals.
I don't know of any colleges that do not work hard to make students and employees aware of the realities of crime on campus.
Seminars and rap sessions are held in residence halls. Administrators train campus organizations. Campus security officers have high visibility on campus, are increasingly sophisticated in their training and work in coordination with local authorities. We can always do more.
But certain elements of the House and Senate bills give me pause.
The Senate measure would make colleges responsible for compiling statistics on "crimes committed against students while in attendance at the institution, regardless of whether the crimes occurred on campus."
If a student is away from campus during a vacation period or even a weekend, he or she is enrolled and therefore in attendance. Should we query them upon their return? (How was your weekend, and by the way, were you mugged?)
Of the 13 million students attending college, a large percentage study part-time. Should we record off-campus crimes against them as well?
Is the bill's aim to collect information about crime on campus or crime against college students and employees?
Those are two very different things.
My guess is that the intent of the bills is to track crime against students and employees while they are engaged in college-related activities. The bill should say so, but it does not.
My second concern is that there is no clear definition of terms used in the bill. There are no standards to ensure that each institution defines and reports crimes in precisely the same way.
Without precision in definition, there is no uniformity and the data collected would be useless.
Under both the Senate bill and the House version, campuses would report crimes to the FBI, which compiles the data and makes it public.
Such statistics make sense only in the context of data for the community in which the college exists, or when compared with other campuses of similar location and character.
For example, my campus - an ex-urban setting at the foothills of mountains - differs sharply from that of a college in New York City.
Although both types of institutions would be required to report "campus" crime, I would have an easier time distinguishing "campus crime" from crimes in the surrounding community than my city colleagues.
I agree wholeheartedly with the premise of the legislation. We must redouble our efforts to make our campuses security conscious, through programs and publications and every means reasonably at our disposal.
My plea is to make certain that the legislation proposed will actually support these efforts and provide reliable information to the public.
(Robert Scott is president of Ramapo College of New Jersey and head of the association of New Jersey State Colleges and Universities.)