University President Steven Knapp announced the formation of a task force to review campus security and safety at GW in light of the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech.
The commission, composed of GW administrators, professors and student leaders, will make recommendations for changes in University policy based on reports issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia Tech by Nov. 9.
“When something like (Virginia Tech) happens . it is time to take a new look,” Knapp said. “If a report like that has been made, it makes sense to review (our policies).”
The task force will be composed of two committees – the Committee on Safety and Security and the Committee on Mental Health and Violence Prevention. The committees will review University duties during a crisis, coordination between University departments and government agencies, communication within the GW community and compliance with federal and local laws.
The Committee on Safety and Security will be co-chaired by John Petrie, assistant vice president for Public Safety and Emergency Management and Dolores Stafford, University Police Department chief. Linda Donnels, associate vice president and dean of students and Jeffrey Akman, chair of the GW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, will co-chair the Committee on Mental Health and Violence Prevention.
Knapp said GW is leading the way in large-scale emergency preparedness and in some safety initiatives. In a news conference Friday, he highlighted the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, which was created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Violence Awareness and Mitigation Program, which UPD established this September to train staff and faculty on how to handle potentially violent situations at GW.
The Committee on Mental Health will look into the University’s handling of students who may harm themselves or others. Knapp would not directly comment if GW was successful in handling mental health cases.
In 2004, Jordan Nott, then a sophomore at GW, was charged with violating the Code of Student Conduct when he told University Counseling Center employees he had suicidal thoughts. He was then suspended and evicted from University housing for his actions. Nott later filed a six-figure lawsuit against the University.
“There are a lot of issues of privacy,” Knapp said. “We have an obligation to ensure the safety of everyone, including individuals who might be proving to be a threat.”
Knapp said the University must be prepared to handle all possible threats against the GW community.
“Human beings are never going to be 100 percent predictable,” Knapp said. “If something does happen, how will we be able to respond to it? Are they the most effective measures in place?”
The University president said GW may not change any of its policies after the task force makes its final report.
“I’m not making any presumptions that there are things that need to be changed,” Knapp said. “We are not talking about going back to square one.”
Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said the University could improve in areas including information exchange, University-wide security operations and the how the University legally interprets the private information of individuals.
“We probably have to do a better job on different tasks,” said Chernak. “One of the things they discovered is there are a lot of conflicts with federal law.”
Tracy Schario, a University spokesperson, said the task force was not created to reaffirm what the University already knows.
Schario said, “The whole point of the task force is not to pat ourselves on the back.”