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University fires security monitors

Claire Heininger | Monday, April 26, 2004

Notre Dame Security/Police told security monitors who work in the University’s 13 women’s residence halls Friday that their positions will be eliminated after this May. The monitors will be replaced by an outdoor-based, community security officer system that will patrol dorms for both sexes. NDSP officials decided to make the switch after a six-month evaluation process that solicited input from rectors, students, monitors and two police officers from other campuses who visited Notre Dame for two days in November, NDSP director Rex Rakow said. “They got a pretty good snapshot,” he said, adding that the outside evaluators “picked up right away that there was a real disconnect between the work environment that the monitors are in and the supervision line … They really worked more for the rectors than they did for us.”Based on these observations, NDSP concluded the monitors did not fulfill the department’s mission of providing safety and security to male and female residents both inside and outside.”[Security monitors] pretty much stayed inside and dealt with their little group of residents,” Rakow said, only reporting security incidents directly to Security/Police “probably not even weekly that we would hear about.””It’s more irregular than it is regular,” he said. “Once we got into [our evaluation] and really started asking the questions, we just found that the system wasn’t serving our needs as much as it once had.”Female monitors were hired in the fall of 1972, the first year female students could attend the University, both to complement the “firewatch” night employees then used in both men’s and women’s dorms and to assuage concerns about student safety. The Security/Police department tried to eliminate the monitors’ positions in 1980 – when firewatch employees were removed from the men’s dorms after all halls installed updated fire alarms and sprinkler systems – but decided against it after significant outcry from female rectors, Rakow said.”I think pretty immediately the women rectors used their monitors differently than the priests that ran the previous halls,” he said. “They kind of co-opted them into residence hall staff – like look, I can go to bed earlier, I’ve got someone at my door and they’ll tell me what’s going on in the hall … In 1980, they were eight years into women at Notre Dame and really felt they needed their person.” Despite the long-term presence of female students – and despite recent advances in cell phone technology to respond to emergencies, another reason Rakow cited for the monitors’ diminished value – many female rectors still feel that need extensively.”I feel terrible about this,” said Farley rector Sister Carinne Etheridge, adding that her “colorful, larger than life” monitor Roberta Shupert has been with the dorm for 19 years. Replacing the monitors will be six roving ground patrol officers, who will each be assigned to a cluster of four or five residence halls to provide additional security – primarily outside, with periodic checks of 24-hour lounges and public spaces – and to serve as a liaison between the security and residence hall staff, Rakow said.”We’re excited to try this – it’ll be a great departure from what we’re used to,” he said. “The way our residence halls are set on campus really lends itself well to a more community-oriented type of policing.”Unlike security monitors, who currently make several rounds a night, the roving officers will not venture onto dorms’ upper floors unless they are responding to a specific incident.”I really think the floors of the hall have to be private,” Rakow said. “That’s your space. I don’t think we belong up there unless there’s a problem that we need to answer a call to.”But citing an incident when an on-call monitor discovered a male student unconscious in a bathroom in the Farley basement shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday, Etheridge said Shupert and other monitors provide security within residence halls that the new officers will not be able to replace.”I need them roving inside,” she said. “[The new officers] are going to be everybody’s buddy, but I don’t need everybody’s buddy. I need somebody here in the middle of the night.”Walsh rector Sister Patricia Thomas was more open to NDSP’s new plan – “part of me is saying the men’s halls have had to do this for a long time,” she said – but stressed that her monitor will be greatly missed. Howard rector Kathy Brannock also emphasized the personal role the monitors play in the dorm community.”I thought their services went beyond the protecting and traditional security efforts,” she said. “It’s safety in knowing someone’s there to talk to when you need to, or security in if something happened at 3 a.m., knowing someone’s awake.”Male rectors praised the increased emphasis on outdoor security.”I think the whole campus can benefit from a greater presence, so I think it’ll be a positive,” Zahm rector Father Dan Parrish said. Dillon rector Father Paul Doyle said one officer for four to five dorms “seems appropriate, at least on the male side … we certainly don’t need somebody assigned to Dillon.”Alumni rector Father George Rozum offered a split opinion.”For the men’s dorms it is positive,” he said, “but for the women’s dorms I don’t know what to think.”Associate Vice President of Residence Life William Kirk, whose division oversees the Security/Police Department, said rectors’ input was considered carefully in the decision-making process in order to frame the security department’s changes within the larger scope of campus life.”Since it falls under us, every decision like that we try to take that into account,” he said. “I know the rectors worked closely with Rakow … Any change is tough at first and I think [rectors] are having all the normal reactions.”Although Rakow and his staff met periodically with Director of Residence Life and Housing Jeff Shoup for input and feedback, Kirk added, the final decision was “primarily a security call based on that department’s extensive research.”Rakow stressed that research when he broke the news to the monitors on Friday night, and invited human resources employees to explain the severance and benefit packages that will be offered. While three of the 14 full-time monitors are in a position to retire, the others were invited to meet with a local group called Career Transitions that will help them ease back into the job market, Rakow said.”The University is going to pay for that, our department is going to pay for that, to help the transition,” he said, adding that monitors were welcome to apply for other University positions. “We’re hoping we’ve done this as compassionately as we can.”Several monitors, however, questioned NDSP’s provisions. “They feel, ‘Oh you can go out in the workforce,'” one monitor said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear that she would not be able to pursue another job at Notre Dame. “My goodness, teenagers can’t even get jobs today, let alone 57, 58, 60-year old ladies … I feel they should say ‘You know, this is a big campus, we’re going to try to find a job for you.'”She added that while many other monitors had lost respect for the University, and some had discussed using sick hours instead of returning for the rest of the year, she planned to stick it out and still felt “very fortunate” that she had been able to work on campus.”My time with these girls and the affection and the love – even when they’ve come in drunk and I’ve taken care of them – there is no greater respect than from these girls,” she said. “I mean you feel like a mother to these girls.”A second monitor, who also requested anonymity, shared the concern for female residents.”Who is this benefiting?” she asked. “It’s not benefiting the girls, it’s not benefiting the rectors, so I don’t see who this is for … it’s going to be really tough next year for the rectors, for the RA’s – they’re going to have it really bad.”Other monitors declined to comment, citing both legal and emotional reasons, but most agreed that the implications for hall staff will be greater than for the new officers.”I can’t see where this patrol group they’re going to have on the quad is going to help, I think students will just blow them off,” a third monitor said, speculating that parietals will be harder to enforce.Etheridge agreed, saying she didn’t think patrolling the common areas in Farley and other dorms would be an effective way to deter parietals and alcohol violations.”That’s not where the action is,” she said. Rakow, however, suggested that the new system may actually be more effective in those situations than the monitors had been. “Perhaps we’ll even be able to find violations more if we see [students] coming out of buildings, because the officers will be on the outside where people will exit, and [students] won’t know exactly where they are,” he said. “In a women’s residence hall, you can pretty much predict where the monitor’s going to be.”He added it was difficult to determine the impact of security monitors on parietals violations because “you can’t measure anything you prevent,” and added that as a ResLife regulation, enforcing parietals “really isn’t a part of our mission.”Rakow also stressed that the new system will be constantly evaluated. “It’ll be a learning process,” he said. “We’re not in this to make a change that won’t accomplish anything.”