Q&A: Security from a School Administrator's Perspective

Editor's note: Joseph W. Doyle is associate vice president for administration at Muskegon Community College. Among the many duties of his office is facilities, which includes security for its staff and 4,500 students. In light of the recent s hootings at Virginia Tech, Doyle agreed to share his thoughts on campus security with The Chronicle. Doyle has been with MCC for about 18 years.

Q: If you look back at campus security two or three decades ago, it primarily was involved with parking enforcement. How has campus security changed since then?

A: I think campus security has evolved into a complex array of concerns. You take the parking example -- it's not just where or how someone parks. Now we have to think about why he or she parked in that illegal space, what was the mental attitude when they got out of the car and decided to scratch the car next to them or why did two students end up in a fight over a parking spot. We have many, many concerns and that is just in the parking area.

Q: What is the biggest challenge today facing campus security?

A: As you saw in the Virginia incident, communication probably is one of our biggest challenges. What, when and how the information about a particular incident is transferred to the people that need to know. How quickly we can get it and how accurately we can get that information across, that is our biggest challenge.

Q: You mention communication, what steps has your campus security taken to foster better communication and interaction, particularly with local law enforcement agencies and emergency services departments?

A: All of our security staff are instructed to use their common sense and their best judgment on deciding to contact local law enforcement. Once on campus, all security staff works with law enforcement to provide all of the necessary information and any assistance they request. Their main job is to cooperate with the local law enforcement.

Q: While it may be months before all the facts surrounding the shootings in Blacksburg, Va., are known, has the incident pointed out any glaring security deficiencies your campus and others should immediately address?

A: Obviously, right after the Virginia incident, our staff got together and we did review our current emergency procedures and we feel comfortable with them. But in saying that, every situation is unique. Each situation will be dealt with as it develops, and having a basic plan to follow is just the initial step. If any aspect could be improved, it's how to thoroughly and accurately communicate with all that could be affected.

Q: A major focus of campus security is protecting students, teachers and staff from outsiders. But the shootings in Blacksburg and other campuses typically have been committed by students. Does more need to be done to identify students who are experiencing emotional problems and to better provide services?

A: This has been made quite evident as we see the details of the Blacksburg tragedy unfold. Any time an incident of this magnitude happens, individuals' alert levels are raised. Many of our staff and students have already indicated their concerns about specific incidents or specific behaviors they have witnessed. Awareness and communicating one's concerns are the key to alleviating potential volatile situations so we do encourage that.

Q: A common thread among the many shooters is they felt persecuted and rejected. How seriously does MCC deal with bullying and hazing?

A: Any type of behavior that causes student discomfort or could escalate into a violent situation is addressed by campus security. We do take any of those incidents seriously and we do address them immediately as soon as we find out.