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ND Alumni address security concerns

Katie Kohler | Friday, October 31, 2008

Even though University President Fr. John Jenkins created an ad hoc committee to review football weekend safety and security protocol earlier in the month to address complaints from fans, some alumni and fans said there is still more that can be done.

Eric Murray, a 1998 Notre Dame graduate, along with around six other alumni and several other contributors, founded the Alumni Council for Enforcement Reform to address these concerns. Murray is spearheading the effort to restore the atmosphere of past seasons without escalating law enforcement.

“Our goal is not to have a confrontational relationship with the University. We want to act as a conduit to validate these complaints towards a rational response,” he said.

They have received numerous responses via their website, therealnotredame.com – some more vocal than others – that cite stories of people being reprimanded or ejected from the Stadium without proper provocation or being wrongfully accused.

However, Murray recognizes the need to work with the University rather than combat it.

“We don’t edit the content of the posts, but we try to de-emotionalize it, delete the four-letter words and get away from extremes. There are a lot of emotions involved in the matter,” he said. “We want the situation to improve, not the University to shut down and become defensive and unapproachable.”

Dave Phillipson, another founding member of the Alumni Council added in an e-mail: “We are compiling the stories and following up on the most egregious ones to encourage them to submit sworn affidavits. We may decide to explore legal options, should the need arise.”

Murray, Phillipson and the other members of the group formed the committee because the problem was becoming more visible, he said.

“We realized that the problem began to crescendo under the surface with representatives of the University, police force and ushers but also from outside sources such as SBPD and the Excise police,” Murray said. “We’re trying to get an understanding of the interaction between the forces. We don’t think its in Notre Dame’s best interest for it to be going on. There is a more rational response to be had without compromising the atmosphere of football.”

Murray described the group as “a loose-knit group of alumni” who do what they can to contribute to the site and the group.

“We’re just alums and subway alums passionate about what Notre Dame stands for.”

The group began to mobilize after NDNation.com was flooded with complaints after the first couple home games, Murray said.

“Some of the complaints were so profoundly bad, we were appalled at what was going on. We all felt like somebody should be doing something.”

University spokesman Dennis Brown said there is nothing new to report on the status of game day security and ushers at this time.

“The committee has already had one meeting and will be continuing to gather and discuss these issues, with the expectation that recommendations will be made to Father Jenkins sometime next semester,” Brown said.

The committee is composed of 10 people “within and without” the University with “considerable expertise and varied perspectives on matters related to game day safety, security and hospitality, Brown said.

In addition to the committee, the University has also created a Web site, http:nd.edu/gameday, which allows people to submit their comments or complaints with proper attribution, not anonymously.

Most of the complaints on the Alumni Council’s message board criticize the University, including: “My friend has vowed never to return to Notre Dame Stadium as long as the ushers hate football,” and “I have never seen the sheer numbers of law enforcement from multiple jurisdictions as I saw Saturday. It was chilling. There seemed to be enough for them to stand shoulder to shoulder. This was not the Notre Dame football experience I recall from better times.”

Murray and the other contributors said they are careful to make sure the claims are true.

“We want to make sure these things are true and not simply to place a one up on stories with someone else. We want credibility with our stories because if we take a rational approach, the administration will be more receptive in doing something positive.”

So far, Murray said they have seen results such as the creation of the ad hoc committee.

“We have seen results. The collective outrage has been put on the table and voiced. Enforcement needs to be less ‘gotcha’ in nature and more in facilitating a safe and fun atmosphere at games. Undercover cops, surveillance cameras at tailgates and following people into bathrooms are not consistent with this,” he said. “The ad hoc committee is a good first step toward acknowledging there is a problem. We’ve gotten over that hurdle, but we’re not fully confident the people on the committee don’t have a conflict of interest. They are all very close to what we see is the problem.”

Murray is hoping their success this season will carry over as needed into future seasons.

The site offers the opportunity to be anonymous, but Murray encourages contributors to reveal themselves.

“If they deal with us they have the option to be anonymous. Some tops are outlandish and if people don’t want to come forward, it will hurt our efforts.”