Following Tragedy, NSU President Says Campus Is Safe

In the wake of one of the worst tragedies Northern State University has ever experienced, Patrick Schloss met with his students to deliver a message.

"You're my kids and I care about you just as if you were my family," Schloss, NSU's president, told them last week.

And Schloss - who's dealt with multiple crimes and tragedies in his work at larger universities - sees it as his duty to keep his 2,400 "kids" safe. "There is no cost that we won't bear to ensure security," Schloss said.

On Monday, NSU professor Morgan N. Lewis, 46, of Aberdeen, was found dead outside of Seymour Hall. The Aberdeen Police Department is investigating the death as suspicious but has no suspects.

Although Lewis' death affected Schloss and other senior administrators at the school, the president says they aren't quite as free to mourn.

"Leadership does weird things to you," Schloss said. "I feel so (responsible) for those 2,400 young people (that it's almost like I) understand why people fall on a grenade."

At safety meetings Monday in conjunction with the police department, Schloss and other NSU officials asked students to follow various safety tips, including not to be out between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. The president says he got no arguments, almost as if students were thinking, "this is Dad talking." It's not that students haven't voiced concerns. One voiced hers quite strongly, Schloss said - classes should've been cancelled Monday.

But Schloss maintains that in a time of tragedy, it's best to keep up the regular routine.

"I know that 20 students in a room (with a professor) . . . is a better situation than 2,000 students with nowhere to go," he said. Security: NSU has stepped up security measures, increasing its escort service as well as police presence.

Schloss said if he ever felt NSU needed more than Aberdeen police could provide, the university would make other arrangements. But he says that won't be necessary.

"The campus doesn't have (its own) police force, but it has the Aberdeen police force," Schloss said. The relationship NSU has with the Aberdeen Police Department is "good or better" than any relationship he's had with police departments at previous schools where he's worked. There is only one officer responsible for patrolling NSU, but Schloss said he has no doubt that if more officers were needed, they'd be there.

Finding balance: As a standard procedure, Rhoda Smith, NSU dean of students, periodically walks around campus with student leaders at night to check out safety.

Oftentimes there has to be a balance between security and aesthetics, Schloss said.

For instance, he guesses the past president who decided to trim trees on the campus green from eye level down took some heat. But the action allows administrators to see all the way to the buildings across the green.

Lights give off light pollution, Schloss said, and students don't want bright lights shining in their dorm windows at night. So the lighting may be dim, he said, but it's lit.

"That's the compromise."

The next walk-through, planned before Monday's incident, will be in the next couple of weeks, Schloss said.

But despite every effort, Schloss said, "no program solves all tragedies or avoids all tragedies. There's nothing I can conceive of . . . that would've avoided this tragedy."

Lewis' death was not characteristic of South Dakota, Schloss said. But while he's shocked for the community of Aberdeen, "I'm sad to say I'm very well-prepared."

Schloss has dealt with a wide array of crimes and tragedies at past campuses - including substance abuse, bomb threats and racial tensions. In bigger cities, "when you're in a culture where this is common, you just count on it," he said. But here, "it's a ripple in a stream." It stays a while, but things eventually go back to a calm state. NSU is still a safe place for students, Schloss said. He said the university hasn't given much thought yet as to what Lewis' death could mean for future recruitment.

But Schloss believes that "if you have a good heart (and) . . . do the right thing," things will turn out right in the end.

Lewis' death left everyone shaken, he said, but it "does not represent a structural problem." Said Schloss, "The ripple will pass."