WCC community needed for campus decisions

 

Board of trustees chair Richard Landau Directly confronts Trustee David Devarti at a recent board meeting.

Board of trustees chair Richard Landau confronts trustee David Devarti at a recent board meeting. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

The college is facing the issue of enhancing campus safety and security. If anything, this is one of the most important, and probably one of the most overlooked stories you should be reading about. In a recent survey conducted by Voice reporters over the course of three days, more than 100 students were asked if they were aware of the negotiation taking place between the college’s administration and the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department. 100 out of 108 students said, “No.”

Yes, everyone wants a safe campus – especially with the rise of violence across the nation – but at the same time, the campus community should be involved in the decision making when it comes to having armed officers on campus. According to the current contract up for negotiation, and WCC board of trustees Chair Richard Landau, WCC is the only higher education institution in the county that doesn’t have some form of officers on campus. Just because “everyone else is doing it,” does that mean it’s in the best interest of our own, unique institution?

At the most recent board of trustees meeting in March, trustee Dave DeVarti held up an issue of the Voice that came out just the day before. On the front page was a story about the Washtenaw County Ways and Means Committee approving a contract to move forward with instating the School Resource Officers, at their March 16 meeting.

While the board of trustees have the final say as to what the decision will be, which the article should have included, a number of the members were surprised and seemed unaware of the committees vote, or that it was even on their agenda. DeVarti was noticeably outraged, and felt as though the process is moving at a quicker than anticipated rate.

More than once, board members DeVarti, Ruth Hatcher and Secretary Christina Fleming, have voiced their concerns about not having enough counselors on campus. Instead of using the hundreds of thousands of dollars getting aid from outside of our school, looking at how to improve the atmosphere in-house by hiring more full-time counselors is another option.

“The thing I personally find somewhat offensive about the entire discussion is that I think Sheriff Clayton’s department has an unimpeachable record….We are partnering with the best of the best,” Landau said in a recent interview with the Voice. “We aren’t training our own police force…We considered that, but why would we do that when we have a sheriff’s office with a sterling reputation that’s willing to work with us and provide input on hiring and firing of officers? I don’t get where the grounds for objection are quite frankly.”

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the work the sheriff’s office does, and how well they do it. This is simply a plea to look at this issue more closely. County board’s are already reviewing this contract and sending thoughts back to the WCC board of trustees. During the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting on April 6, a long discussion took place concerning the contract. Students from WCC spoke during public comments, against the idea of moving forward with the contract.

After the board of commissioners meeting, Clayton sent an email to WCC President Rose Bellanca stating that “Several times, various commissioners referenced the ‘unrest’ and concern about ‘police on campus’ that is being expressed by faculty and the student body as a source of their concern. They also mentioned the conflict and lack of agreement on the WCC board of trustees.” Later on in the email, Clayton says, “I am inclined to discontinue the police services contract discussions with Washtenaw Community College, because of the continued undermining efforts, interference and lack of role clarity exhibited by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and others.”

Landau says he has since spoken to Clayton, and the negotiation process continues. While Clayton may not like how the boards are discussing this issue, that is exactly their job. Wouldn’t the college rather have a board who dissects the issues and looks at every possible option?

Ever since the board members got shaken up a bit with three newcomers, there’s finally been more debate instead of constant, unquestioned agreement. Yes, it’s good for a board to get along, but it’s even better to have a board whose members challenge one another – a board who makes sure there are no stones unturned when it comes to making a decision that will affect its school’s staff, faculty and students.

We aren’t outright saying this is a bad idea. We are simply suggesting that the board members make sure they have identified an actual problem before jumping to expensive, drastic solutions. Also, students need to be made more aware. The Voice has written at least four stories concerning this issue, but that’s not enough. The survey conducted months ago, given by the administration, was not enough. Reach out and make sure your students know what’s going on.

Bringing armed officers into the WCC environment isn’t guaranteed to stop a tragedy before it occurs, and in the meantime, that means there are even more lethal weapons on this campus on a daily basis, as well as more opportunities for students to end up in handcuffs. Even if these weapons are in the hands of trained officers, more guns does not mean more safety – proven by the fact that the more guns there are in a state, the more instances of gun violence.

While we’ve only talked to a little more than 100 students so far, the outreach continues. Although Landau says that he hasn’t seen a single instance of student outreach on the issue, at least two have actually spoken during board of trustee meetings. Even just one student showing support or not should be enough for the board to take a step back and think about the best way to involve more of their opinions. Students make up the majority of this campus, and somehow they are the last ones to know.

The board will discuss this issue further at their April 26 meeting at 4 p.m. in the Morris Lawrence building, room 150.

 

See more related articles:

Editorial: Can we really ensure campus safety?

Conversations continue regarding enhancement of campus safety

County panel approves WCC security pact

WCC trustees discuss possibility of armed campus officers

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