Katy Abel
MA Department of Higher Education
617-994-6932 (office)
617-981-2344 (cell)

For Immediate Release
June 14, 2016

Board of Higher Education Issues Campus Safety and Violence Prevention Recommendations

New Report Lauds Campuses for Improvements Made Since 2007 Virginia Tech Shooting, Urges New Focus on Sexual Violence Prevention

Worcester, MA – June 14, 2016 – Massachusetts public colleges and universities have made significant strides in their efforts to improve campus safety since 2008 when the Board of Higher Education first ordered a review, but will need to continue to develop new safety protocols and trainings due to heightened concerns about sexual violence, active shooters and other emerging threats, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education reported today. 

Securing Our Future: Best Practice Recommendations for Campus Safety and Violence Prevention, a 120-plus page report prepared by TSG Solutions, Inc.was presented to the Board of Higher Education during its final meeting of the year at Worcester State University. In formally accepting the report, the BHE directed the Commissioner of Higher Education to work with campus leaders to coordinate implementation of the recommendations and help secure necessary resources.

The document does not offer a one-size-fits-all prescription for improving campus safety, but puts the focus on the need for “nimble and flexible capabilities” that allow campuses to integrate safety and violence prevention efforts into strategic planning, budgeting and other ongoing priorities addressed by campus leaders.

“I thank the Department of Higher Education and the statewide task force members who came together to bring their expertise to bear on the important report on campus safety and violence prevention,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Chair of the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. “I am proud that Massachusetts has taken the lead as the first state to order a comprehensive review of campus safety, which includes both active shooter threats and the prevalence of sexual violence, for all its public campuses.” 

“The report makes clear that strong local governance and better statewide coordination are essential to building a safe foundation for teaching and learning,” said Carlos E. Santiago, Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education. “We cannot divorce campus safety concerns from academic or student affairs. I am pleased to see the level of progress that has been made to date, and am indebted to our team of consultants for identifying the need for a holistic and systemic approach to violence prevention in our campus communities.”
“We know that one in four or five female undergraduates are sexually assaulted while in college, underscoring the urgency of this particular issue,” said Dena Papanikolaou, general counsel to the Department of Higher Education. “The status quo is unacceptable. I believe we have a moral obligation to promote the safety of students and staff on all of our campuses.”

Securing Our Future makes use of prior studies, including a 2008 campus safety report on active shooter threats that was ordered by the BHE in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. The consultants also reviewed national best practices and emerging research, conducted a system wide survey, made campus visits and interviewed senior staff and students to produce a series of recommendations on how to best protect the campus community from harm.TSG Solutions was aided by members of a statewide task force comprised of safety experts, campus presidents, campus police chiefs, student leaders, rape crisis counselors and advocates, and Title IX coordinators. Representatives from the Attorney General's Office, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Massachusetts State Police, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Mental Health also served on the task force. The task force was co-chaired by Papanikolaou, and by BHE members Dani Monroe and Fernando Reimers.

“While every campus is unique, our goal with this report is to offer a series of baseline recommendations that local campuses can use to address the evolving security challenges they face, both now and in the future,” said Amanda Botelho Robbins, a senior security consultant with TSG Solutions and principal author of the report. “In some ways, campuses are more challenging security environments than airports or federal buildings. Every campus needs to balance the desire for an open environment that welcomes a free range of political and philosophical discourse with the growing need to minimize risk.”

Among the areas of security progress at local campuses cited by TSG since the original 2008 safety report was drafted:

Emergency Protocols: 93% share them with their campus communities; 89% cover safety and security topics during student orientation.
Emergency Response:  100% have a behavioral threat assessment and management team capable of reviewing and managing cases of potential threats.
Communications: 100% have a mass notification system that can be used in emergencies.
Technology: 89% have installed video security cameras deployed in interior and exterior spaces.
Campus Police: 86% have written protocols for campus police response to an active shooter incident.

 The report also notes that “gaps still exist” in campus safety protocols. Among the findings:

Student Information: While most institutions are providing  adequate information for students regarding campus safety and violence prevention, the consultants found that “students are not retaining that information, particularly on the topic of sexual violence, for a variety of reasons” including  “Information overload” at freshman orientation where the topic is most often introduced.

Building locks: Although improvements have been made since 2008 to physical security, one-third of the 28 University of Massachusetts, state university and community college campuses reported in their survey responses that they do not have the ability to remotely lock any and/or all doors on campus, and seven campuses reported that none of their classroom doors could be locked from the inside.

“While there is definitely room for improvement in the area of electronic and physical upgrades, my experience is that utilization of technology is just one small piece of the total security puzzle,” said Juliette Kayyem, one of the consultants who contributed to the report. “By far, the most important action that can be taken to improve institutional safety is to have the leadership team fully focused on this issue, and to make sure that the institution’s strategic planning incorporates security considerations.”

Securing Our Future recommends that the Department of Higher Education create a new position, the Executive Director for Campus Safety and Violence Prevention, to serve as a liaison between campuses and other agencies including the Massachusetts State Police, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and K12 school systems. The report also recommends additional campus safety and violence prevention training for students, and urges residential campuses to consider a variety of strategies to crack down on alcohol abuse. While the consultants make clear that alcohol use or abuse does not cause or excuse sexual violence, the two are often conflated. One recommendation urges campuses to consider amnesty policies in a bid to encourage students or bystanders who have been drinking to report assaults without fear of reprisal.

While the report outlines a series of cost impacts, the majority of the recommendations can be implemented at low or no cost to campuses or to taxpayers.

“Our highest priority across the public higher education system is ensuring the safety of each and every member of our college communities,” said Frederick Clark, President of Bridgewater State University and a member of the Task Force on Campus Safety and Violence Prevention. “The work of the Task Force will help to advance these goals by identifying best practices that will inform our safety and security efforts moving forward.  At Bridgewater, we have implemented or are implementing many of the Task Force’s recommendations, including the integration of safety into our curriculum.  We look forward to partnering with the Department of Higher Education to secure and deploy the resources our campuses may also need to facilitate security infrastructure investments.”

A copy of the report is attached and available on the Department of Higher Education web site.


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