Thursday, September 20, 2007

UI's 21st Century Mission

September 20, 2007, 9:15, 11:20 a.m.

Praise for Regents: When In-action is the Greater Wisdom

On the two big ones last Tuesday the Regents -- wisely in my view -- said, in effect, there's more to the corporate naming of buildings, and the arming of campus police, than the simplistic way these issues are being talked and thought about. Erin Jordan, "Rule On Naming Buildings at Universities to be Tweaked," Des Moines Register, September 19, 2007; Erin Jordan, "Regents Delay Decision on Firearms," Des Moines Register, September 19, 2007.

I'm reminded of a story told about a corporate CEO years ago -- it may have been Alfred Sloan at General Motors. After a brief discussion with a group of his vice presidents regarding a major challenge confronting the company he said, "Well, gentlemen, I see we're all in agreement. That probably means we don't understand the problem. I suggest we think about it some more and meet again in a couple of weeks."

In this case, the Regents are going to meet again in a month.

It's the Mission of Higher Education -- Not the Naming of Buildings

The Regents seem to recognize that the "building naming" issue goes far beyond the mere matter of turning Regents' campus buildings into one of the best advertising buys available to for-profit businesses anywhere, the gift that goes on giving forever: billboards for corporations that will last as long as a building stands.

The Regents are face-to-face with an issue no less significant than the proper role of higher education today in general, and for the Regents' universities in Iowa in particular.

Once the province of religion, with a primary purpose of training ministers, these colleges were followed by land grant universities envisioned to (among other things) assist the agricultural industry.

Once institutions enabling the perpetuation of the socio-economic status of America's elite families, they were expanded to offer opportunity for all -- though still funded by the state, and as close to "free" as possible for students (a goal continued with the GI-Bill following World War II).

Today state funding provides only a small fraction of the cost of running "public universities" that are, in almost every way, the full equivalent of "private universities" -- including the student loan debt that further enriches banks, and impoverishes students, once they graduate (if they do).

Once seen as a means to enrich the qualify of one's life over a lifetime other than in a monetary way -- with a greater appreciation of art, music, literature, languages, and a fuller understanding of nature and the products of science that fill our lives -- today a university education is increasingly pursued as (because, in part, it has been advertised as) a way to increase one's income over the course of a lifetime.
Increasingly, higher education is coming to be "corporatized."

Buildings that used to bear the names of ancient scholars now bear the names of donors -- as do faculty and auditorium "chairs," rooms, wings, and even entire colleges.

Facilities are provided for start-up corporations.

Faculty are expected to raise their own salaries from grants -- often, in effect, utilizing university resources and their own talents to increase the bottom line of for-profit corporations, doing research at bargain-basement rates that, but for the lack of state funding, they might not choose to be doing at all.

Universities contribute to the creation of an economy and society in which our very best artists (writers, musicians, graphic artists) are producing the advertising that manipulates consumer demand, and our very best scientists and engineers are paid from defense appropriations to create ever-more-efficient deadly weapons of war.
As I've pointed out in discussing these issues earlier, the primary problem (if such it be) comes from a university's solicitation and acceptance of the money in the first place. Putting the name on the building merely advertises to the world that we're for sale. But what we sold was sold when we took the money -- "with no strings attached."

So that's the issue confronting the Regents -- an issue in which the "naming controversy" is well buried within a substantial pile of more fundamental concerns.

I have my preferences, obviously, but my primary concern is the elimination of hypocrisy.

If our primary role in the 21st Century is to be an "economic engine," if we are simply recognizing our relationship as that of a "subsidiary corporation" in a world that is little more than the Fortune 500, so be it. Let's declare that's the case and do the best possible job we can of pursuing that path, and making those contributions.

Not incidentally, if that's what we decide we are, the controversy surrounding the naming of buildings for our corporate partners and masters thereby becomes a trivial issue to be quickly resolved.

But it's unseemly, in my view, to pretend and advertise that we're here for the students, that we're trying to enrich their lives, that we're committed to the pursuit of a "liberal arts and sciences education," when that's not the case. That's all.

I'd rather we first figure out, and then just declare, what we truly are -- and then start much more aggressively "haggling over price."

It's Not About Guns

As for more academic armaments on campus, I'm reminded of the bumper sticker: "Whatever is the question, war is not the answer."

In our case, "whatever is the security issue, weapons are not the answer."

The Regents are also entitled to some praise for wanting to give this one a little more time and investigation as well.

The matter is highlighted by this morning's Press-Citizen.

Bob Patton's editorial cartoons always put the matter most suscinctly, but there is also an excellent column on the editorial page. David Morris, "Guns Aren't Safe Solution," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 20, 2007, p. A7.

Ironically, the thrust of both the cartoon and column -- and the wisdom in the Regents' further inquiry -- are most effectively demonstrated by the paper's page-one lead headline and story: Lee Hermiston, "Chief: Public trust in police faltering; He details efforts to catch attacker as council vows faith in department," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 20, 2007, p. A1.

What's the greatest security concern on the campus at the moment? The fact that the Iowa City police -- armed or unarmed -- have so far (despite their best efforts) been unable to bring a halt to what is now a string of 30 women assaulted on the streets of Iowa City at night.

There are a number of lessons here.

1. As someone commented in an earlier blog here, the primary risk to the security of students occurs on the streets of Iowa City, not the campus of the University.

2. This, in turn, opens a can of worms about the relationship between the campus police and the Iowa City police. One of the arguments offered by proponents of arming the campus police is that they are responsible for patrolling many areas of Iowa City besides the campus, and that they are sometimes called upon by the Iowa City police to help out. Who made those decisions and why?

3. Thankfully, if I've read all the newspaper reports correctly, every woman attacked was able to defend herself and send the attacker running. Thus, it would seem that (a) this is a matter for the Iowa City police, not the campus police, (b) they are armed, (c) but being armed would not seem to be necessary in this instance, and (d) in any event, armed or unarmed, they have been unable to find and arrest the attacker or protect the women.

4. Thus, as Bob Patton illustrates, and I've discussed at length in other blog entries here (see, e.g., "Politics and Psychology," linked below), arming the campus police is little more than an irrelevant "security blanket," a decision being made at the wrong time (a response to Virginia Tech) for the wrong reasons, that (like our invasion of Iraq) is as likely to decrease rather than increase our security.

As Regent Rose Vasquez observed, under any rational benefit-cost analysis one has to acknowledge that arming campus police has the usual equation backwards: there are virtually no benefits to arming campus police (in saved injury and death of students), while on the other hand there are risks of significant cost (in lost lives). So why are we doing this? My best analysis remains Nicholas Johnson, "On Point, Politics, Psychology, Police and Public Relations" in "Politics and Psychology," September 14, 2007.

[As Radio Iowa reports:

Rose Vasquez of Des Moines says the issue shouldn't be bundled into a larger plan. Vasquez says she's ready to vote on arming officers, saying she's opposed to arming the officers and it won't have anything to do with not beefing up security measures. Vasquez says even after hearing from the directors of the three public safety departments about the threats that face campus police, she did not favor arming the officers.

Vasquez says, "There was no situation that sort of rose up or elevated itself to a level that but for a gun, things would have been different."

Darwin Danielson, "Regents Delay Decision on Arming Campus Police," Radio Iowa, September 18, 2007, 3:17 p.m.]
This week the Regents seemed to be 7-to-1 in favor of more weapons on campus, but they were unanimous that "campus security" was a much bigger and more complex issue than merely supplying more guns.

Even as to the guns, as I noted earlier,

"the evidence [regarding weapon-toting campus police] was, at best, equally divided as to whether arming campus police would make the UI community safer or more dangerous. The discussion of the issue was not driven by academic inquiry, data -- or even a traditional debate format -- with spokespersons putting forward their best case. It was permitted to be driven by those who advocated bringing more guns onto the campus." Nicholas Johnson, "On Point, Politics, Psychology, Police and Public Relations" in "Politics and Psychology," September 14, 2007.
Finally, I put to the students once again . . .

Think, Students: Do you Really Want More Weapons on Campus?

Students can be a real source of trouble for university administrators.

Sometimes it can be because of what the students do. Other times because of what they say -- or think -- the signs they carry, or the sit-ins they organize.

So while I've never had any difficulty understanding why university administrators would want more, and better armed, police and national guard soldiers to protect their campuses from whatever the administrators may find threatening at any given moment, I'm really bewildered as to why students would want more fully armed "authority" with which to deal.

Here's why.

Witness this event from the evening of September 17, demonstrating how the campus police at Florida University, Gainesville, made students "safer" on that campus when one was in the process of merely exercising his First Amendment right in asking former John Kerry a question:

That student in the video, Andrew Meyer, can be grateful that his campus police chose to limit the pain they inflicted to physical violence and the threat (or actual use) of a taser. Based on his screams, however, it sounded like they were pushing tasers to their limits.

Not incidentally, why did this story -- which received widespread national distribution and has been all over the blogosphere, and is certainly related to the current campus BIG STORIES receive nary a mention in the Press-Citizen? (The Gazette at least carried the AP story, with a picture of Meyer. Associated Press, "University of Florida investigating police Tasering of student at forum," The Gazette, September 19, 2007, p. A5.)

When guns are brought onto a campus to control students the results can be both painful and deadly. In the case of the Kent State Massacre, where armed national guard troops were used, the results were four dead students and nine injured from gunshot wounds.

For those students not old enough to have lived through the Kent State Massacre of May 4, 1970, you might want to review the video below. Because it starts with President Nixon's speech, just substitute "President George W. Bush" for "President Richard Nixon," "Iraq" for "Vietnam," and "Iran" for "Cambodia" to bring it up to date and make it easier to relate to.

Here's another take on those events, from "Democracy Now."

You can't imagine how much safer I feel, knowing that soon the UI will also have access to the deadly weapons necessary to control unruly students.

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Anonymous said...

When you talk about cooperation between Johnson County law enforcement agencies (including UI-DPS) you have to distinguish between cooperation at the operational level and the policy level.

My take is the cooperation at the operational level is fairly good and the cooperation at the policy level has improved but could be better. I do not think that the cooperation between UI-DPS and the other agencies is fully reciprocal.

Anonymous said...

As the daughter of a retired Omaha policemen related to me, the newer generation of policemen are different from previous generations.

The older cops sought to avoid using their weapons. Many police retired without firing a service revolver, except in training.

The new generation of cops, perhaps influenced by so much TV/movie bravado wants to blow someone away.

That is an over-simplification at best, but contains a kernel of truth. The best police use planning and guile to prevent and solve crimes. Good police work would have been far more valuable to Va Tech than the armed police that patrolled the campus there.

20% of cops are shot by their own weapons.

Make no mistake about it. If campus police are armed:
1. Costs will increase, and fewer cops will be on patrol
2. A student will be shot at and perhaps hit
3. At some point in history, one of the campus police will be shot by his own weapon.

One just needs to at an incident a few years ago in the UIHC where a convict wrestled cops to the floor, and momentarily gained control of the weapon.

Is the U of Iowa prepared to arm police for dubious benefit, then suffer the consequences when a student is shot, or a policemen is shot with his own weapon?