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Colleges want funding to boost campus safety

By RON MATUS
Published April 20, 2007


In response to the shootings at Virginia Tech, Florida universities want more cops, more counselors and better communication. The board that oversees state universities voted unanimously Thursday to ask the Legislature for an immediate $3.5-million to beef up emergency response.

Despite a tight budget year, lawmakers are expected to respond when they negotiate the budget in the final days of the session.

"This terrible tragedy gives us an opportunity to assess our own vulnerabilities and determine how we can be more prepared," Board of Governors Chair Carolyn Roberts said before the vote, which took place via conference call.

State university system chancellor Mark Rosenberg also called on all 11 state universities to review and if need be strengthen policies regarding the dismissal of disruptive students. "We must err on the side of protecting the many against the few who are incapable of dealing with the world of complexity that our campuses have become," he said.

The board requested $1.5-million in one-time funds to improve instant notification systems for emergencies, and $2-million in recurring funds to hire about 20 more police officers. Universities also want to hire more mental health counselors, but Rosenberg said if the money is not available this year it will be sought next year.

A breakdown by university for requested money and personnel wasn't immediately available.

Florida campuses already have some types of warning systems in place, but Rosenberg said they should push to be redundant so students and faculty can be notified via e-mail, instant messages, loudspeakers and reverse 911 systems.

The requested funding will also encompass more training for police and other first-line responders. "After Monday, the kind of response activity we will be expecting from our police had to change," he said.

As for disruptive students, Rosenberg -- a former provost at Florida International University -- said some universities have policies in place to dismiss them. But there isn't enough awareness about those policies and how they work. Obviously that needs to change, Rosenberg said, because "one student having a bad day can have a huge impact."

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.