University of Montana President George Dennison assured the state Board of Regents on Friday that his administration is taking steps to make the Missoula campus safer in the wake of several reported sexual assaults on students.
Additional patrols by uniformed officers, improved lighting, more availability of student escorts and increased safety education efforts already have been undertaken, he said. Dennison also said plans for installing security cameras near dormitory entrances is under way and the project could be complete by mid-November.
His comments came in response to criticism leveled at the regents by Gale Price, student body president at UM, for their refusal earlier this year to approve a student fee increase partly to improve security at the school.
She said that request was prompted by a series of five sexual assaults on the UM campus during a three-month period last spring. Another rape was reported last week on the campus, she said.
In a letter she read to the regents, UM student government leaders chastised the board for failing to act in May on the fee increase sought by the students themselves.
``As regents, you are accountable for the safety of our students,'' the student government said. ``Our students do not feel safe.''
Price said the students believe adding security cameras is necessary and that one estimate put the price at $175,000. Other steps such as better street lighting and more emergency phones along campus walks are needed as well.
``This is something that is an ongoing trend,'' Price said of the campus assaults. ``The fact that students were willing to pay is a sign of how bad it's gotten. Safety on campus is so important they're willing to pay for it.''
Dennison said UM officials are aware of the problem and have estimated that installation of video cameras at dorm entrances would cost up to $500,000 depending on how many are placed.
``We didn't leave aside this whole issue of cameras, but it's got to be effective,'' he said. ``We will push forward with the cameras and decide where to put them. We will have this thing designed, if not installed, by the November meeting'' of the regents in Missoula.
He acknowledged that the reported assaults tend to occur at the dorm entrances, even though they are some of the most well-lighted areas on the campus.
``This issue we need to address and we will address,'' Dennison said.
Price said she was unaware before Friday that UM planned to go ahead with installing security cameras, but was satisfied with the plan.
Regents Chairman John Mercer of Polson questioned why student government doesn't spend some of its money to bolster security. Price said student government does not have enough to fund what is needed, but has talked about offering students a self-defense course.
Mercer defended the regents' rejection of the students' proposed fee increase, saying the board was trying to control student costs at a time when students are complaining about the rising cost of education.
Lynn Hamilton, regent from Havre, said the board has been ``irresponsible'' in not doing more to improve campus security throughout the university system in the two years since the issue was first raised.
The state has the responsibility to provide students, entrusted to its care at the schools, with a safe environment, she said.
Mercer said heightened security measures at UM may be the first step toward similar efforts at other colleges in the state and that the Missoula school could be a model for what is done elsewhere.
Geoff Gamble, Montana State University president, said any MSU security improvements will be based on what happens at UM. He said he wants to see how well video cameras deter crime on that campus.