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University reviews security monitors’ effectiveness

Claire Heininger | Monday, February 9, 2004

Security monitors in female residence halls fear that a University review of their effectiveness is an indication that Notre Dame plans to eliminate their positions at the end of the school year, several monitors told The Observer.But University officials said the internal review is part of a five-year examination of multiple aspects of Notre Dame Security/Police, adding that no decision has yet been made on the future of the 23 female security monitors. Notre Dame has used security monitors in all of its female residence halls since co-education began in 1972. Associate vice president of Residence Life Bill Kirk said that a committee composed of both external and internal officials – including police officers from other universities – was formed to evaluate the monitors’ role in keeping the dorms safe. Based on the committee’s report, NDSP plans to make a recommendation on the future of the monitors to the Office of Residence Life and Housing in March, NDSP director Rex Rakow said.”About five years ago we developed a strategic planning process that committed our department to examining all phases of our department for increasing efficiency and service,” Rakow said in an e-mail. “With that in mind, this year we decided to review the whole issue of residence hall security throughout the campus.”The University has employed the majority of the monitors for more than 10 years, and several said they feared various consequences of sudden unemployment. One monitor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was afraid of being immediately fired, said that most of the women working as hall monitors are unsuited to finding another job.”We’re middle-aged ladies, we can’t just go out and get a job like a young person,” she said. “If they decide to get rid of us, some of these ladies are going to suffer.”The monitor believed Notre Dame was waiting to make its announcement to avoid negative reactions from residence hall staff.”That’s the main reason they’re keeping us on pins and needles – they don’t want any grief from the rectors, they don’t want any grief from us,” she said.Rakow maintained that no final decisions have been made. “[We] will soon be meeting with rectors and others to finalize our thoughts,” he said. “The current hall monitor program was designed in 1972 when women were finally admitted to the Notre Dame undergraduate experience. As such, it has undergone few changes and is a presence only in the female halls of residence … We will be soliciting student input further in the coming weeks.”However, several security monitors said they believed that the University had already decided to cut their positions.”They said they were evaluating how security is run, but I think Notre Dame has made up their mind to go [ahead] and do this. The committee takes the decision-making pressure off of them,” the security monitor said. “None of the higher-ups will say anything to us.”She added that she and the other 22 security monitors who work in Notre Dame’s 13 female residence halls were no longer working in the summer, a two-year-old move that she took as a sign that they would be fired permanently.”I told the girls when they did that that it was only a matter of time, but we didn’t think that it would be this soon,” she said. “They’re trying to get rid of us.”Another monitor with nine years of experience agreed that the monitors’ removal during the summer indicated that change was imminent. “After 30 years, all of the sudden we’re not working summers,” the second monitor said. “After 30 years, they’re having a strategy meeting where they say they’re convinced that the alarm system is good enough.”She claimed that security monitors serve a much broader purpose than that of an alarm. “We are more like a preventative,” she said, adding later, “Anytime anything really bad goes down, it’s in a boys’ dorm. … You also know your girls, and they feel safe having someone to come home to at night.” The second monitor described several incidents where students had been intoxicated and she had unlocked their rooms to let them in, checking on them repeatedly throughout the night. She stressed that monitors view themselves as more of a caretaker and a confidante than an intimidating presence. “My girls can tell me anything and they know that’s where it stops,” the second monitor said. “We’re not here to invade the girls’ privacy … We’re here for their protection.”The first monitor agreed, adding that the rectors in all three of the dorms she works in have repeatedly recognized this role.At one of the dorms where she works, “there is a list in the desk of our night duties: making rounds, checking the bathrooms and everything,” the first monitor said. “And there’s a personal note at the bottom from [the rector] that says, ‘Thanks so much for your help – you help me sleep at night.'”Walsh rector Sister Patricia Thomas said that she was solicited for input on her experiences with her own security monitor but was unsure of what the “fact-finding group” had accomplished so far.”I went to a session with some rectors and folks that came as objective observers and was asked to share the experiences of my security monitor … but I don’t know where that fits in the big picture,” she said. “Each rector had her own stories based on the length of time they’d had that monitor.”Thomas said that her own relationship with the dorm’s security monitor had been very positive, but added that she supported exploring other options as well.”Over the seven years I’ve been here, I was able to say that she’s gotten to know the women of Walsh very well and it makes them feel good to have her here. She is a positive influence in the evenings,” Thomas said. “There are lots of things to consider, lots of issues we haven’t gotten to yet. … I’m open to possibilities.”Welsh Family rector Candace Carson said that her monitor had been with the dorm for 15 years, including before the move from Siegfried took place in 1997.”They asked [rectors] how the monitors functioned in the halls, what they did,” Carson said. “I have a great relationship with our monitor.”Kirk said that rector input will play a key role in the final decision-making process, but the decision to eliminate the security monitors won’t be made until after his office receives NDSP’s final report.”We’ll await their recommendations as the year goes on, then I will go through it with senior staff,” Kirk said. “We’re still pretty early in the planning process.”