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Safety proposal gets mixed reception

Claire Heininger | Friday, October 8, 2004

The Board of Trustees harshly questioned the timing, feasibility and logistics of student government’s proposal to create a Notre Dame SafeBus Thursday, but acknowledged the importance of off-campus safety as an overarching report theme and embraced some of the students’ lesser initiatives.

The SafeBus idea – the cornerstone of a four-point proposal that also included off-campus security seminars, greater neighborhood involvement and the prospect of Notre Dame Security/Police extending its reach beyond campus boundaries – should have been subjected to further student government review and Campus Life Council approval before it reached the Board’s level, one trustee said.

The Observer has a policy of not attributing information or quotes to specific members of the Board.

“To ask the Trustees to step in first is certainly the cart before the horse,” he said.

The presenters, student body president Adam Istvan, vice president Karla Bell and chief executive assistant Dave Baron, should have also cleared the SafeBus plan with busing companies and asked the city of South Bend to take responsibility for liability concerns, another trustee said.

“You may want to hit all those other parties before it comes to us,” he said.

Other trustees worried the SafeBus sounded too much like the various van line systems that failed at the University in the past.

“I feel like this idea kind of has a renaissance every 10 years,” another trustee said, pointing out that when she attended Notre Dame, a saferide service died out because of sparse participation.

“How many students would use it?” she asked. “Did you learn anything from the vanlines of the past?”

Istvan said he had.

“We don’t want this to be another failed saferide,” he said, adding that previous services were difficult to maintain because they were student-run – an issue he proposed to solve by hiring a trained, uniformed monitor to supervise the bus.

“This time, people will be paid to do it, so there will be more accountability,” Istvan said.

But finding those people could be difficult, another trustee pointed out.

“You have to keep in mind that you have a group of people that aren’t in their best moment,” she said, recalling fights and vomiting that took place aboard other vans and buses. “Students are at their worst … it takes some unusual people to handle that.”

And if those people are University employees, the situation becomes even more complex, the first trustee said.

Since Notre Dame staffers are prohibited from tolerating underage drinking when they observe it, putting NDSP in charge of the bus as the report suggested would inevitably lead to conflicts and perhaps to ticketing, he said.

Considering the tragedies that have occurred when students were walking back to Notre Dame, the University should take a reasonable amount of underage drinking into context, Istvan said. Slightly intoxicated students are often given leeway in on-campus locations like Reckers and LaFortune, Baron added.

“If they are visibly and horrendously intoxicated, then [disciplinary] action will be taken,” he said.

The trustee remained unconvinced.

“Do you know what you’re asking the University to do? They can’t do that,” he said. “You’re asking the campus to oversee something and ignore something it can’t ignore … There is no way that I would endorse a bus that says if a student gets on a bus – underage [or] overage – intoxicated, that I would turn a blind eye to it.”

The bus’s proposed route, which would be traveled every Saturday and Sunday morning from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., was also a point of contention.

Several trustees pressed Istvan on his promise that the bus would not become a way for students to get to parties, but would solely be used for returning home.

“You want to protect students coming back – [but] it’s just as dangerous going there,” one trustee said, adding that the SafeBus would “put the University in the middle of encouraging students to go off-campus and party.”

“The route is set up as party-hopping,” another trustee said.

The presenters defended the route and stressed that rules of the bus would be well-publicized to students. Certain stops will only allow students to get on the bus, Istvan said.

He added that he, Bell and Baron had not approached the Board expecting a ringing endorsement.

“Our idea was not to have you approve [the SafeBus],” he said. “Our idea was to make this a priority – we want no one left behind.”

The priority of student safety was never disputed, one trustee said.

“We endorse that concept, but if SafeBus is the way to do it is what we’re questioning,” he said.

The Board also largely brushed off South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke’s public support for the project, saying that the mayor would naturally be eager to have the University instead of the city assume liability for off-campus partiers.

However, the Board praised the officers’ other initiatives for promoting off-campus security, especially Istvan’s goal to create “neighborhoods of respect.”

“It’s not about [our neighbors] knowing us,” Istvan said. “If we know them, we can be more conscious and respectful.”

Along with student involvement on neighborhood boards, the off-campus seminar was also enthusiastically embraced by the Board. Requiring mandatory seminar participation for all students moving off-campus would not be out of the question, he said.

He concluded his remarks with the observation that collaboration between student government and NDSP to create a comprehensive plan for off-campus protection was also a valid goal.

“We should have clarity and thoroughness in how we deal with security off-campus,” the trustee said. “But relative to the bus, lots of legitimate concerns were raised … [you should] throw that back in for more thorough vetting.”

Istvan, Bell and Baron said they planned to do just that.

“They didn’t say no,” Istvan said. “In fact, he said yes to looking into it. That’s not a ‘yes, it will exist,’ but it’s a ‘yes, we should pursue it.'”

Following the advice of the Board, the three will now pursue the SafeBus plan through Student Senate and the CLC, Baron said. When asked why the student leaders didn’t follow that route in the first place, Baron minimized SafeBus’ role in the overall report.

“SafeBus was one of many suggested topics under the off-campus safety heading,” he said. “We got three out of four.”