Educators take a stand
Colleges, universities will suffer from crime, officials tell law makers, law enforcement
Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007
Updated: Sunday, December 14, 2008 01:12
Higher education leaders say that the recent wave of murders will begin to drive away students and keep away prospective students.
With a unified voice Wednesday, 10 area universities sent a direct message to state and crime fighting officials: We're tired of the violence.
Meeting at Loyola with Jimmy Clarke, Chief of Staff for Gov. Kathleen Blanco, and officials with the Louisiana National Guard, Louisiana State Police and New Orleans Police Department, the university officials said the recent rash of murders is beginning to hurt their retention and admission rates.
"We live in this city, and parents won't send their kids here" with constant murders, said Deborah Stieffel, dean of admissions at Loyola.
Clarke said the meeting was the first step in starting a dialogue that will begin between higher education officials and state and law enforcement officials. He said that having spent part of his professional career working in a college admission office, he understands the concern, as do other state leaders.
"I talked to Gov. Blanco, and she thinks this is totally appropriate to initiate this conversation," Clarke said.
Because of the various universities in the city and their locations and campus types, Clarke said, the needs of each university will be different but said he will make sure that the campuses are secure.
Joseph Byrd, an admissions officer at Xavier University in Mid-City, said his campus is relatively safe. The main concern for his campus is police visibility.
"Everyone who comes through campus with a book bag doesn't necessarily have books in their bag," he said.
Anne Banos, who works in the president's office at Tulane, said the city bears some responsibility in the murder spree. Remnants of Hurricane Katrina aren't helping, she said.
"It's not just the police. There are street lights out, and some abandoned houses are not really abandoned," Banos said.
Earl Retif of Tulane's registrar office said he's heard of some parents not allowing their children to visit the campus because of the city's image.
"That's just one thing that will stop us from having the class we need," he said. "We can't isolate our students on the island of Tulane University."
NOPD Capt. Michael Pfeiffer said that the department is working to fix problems that have plagued the department following Hurricane Katrina, including a lower number of officers, but that student safety is a goal.
"Issues you are raising as a group will not only be heard by police but public officials," he said.
"Politicians react to pressure," said City Council president Oliver Thomas.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
At the campus of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center downtown, Ron Gardner, vice chancellor, said his biggest complaint is the lack of lighting.
Gardner said that light is the best way to stop any potential crime from happening, and he'd like to see the LSUHSC campus lit up "like Zephyr Stadium at night."
"It's hard for folks to understand why we just don't have some lighting," he said. "It's the cheapest form of law enforcement. There's no overtime to pay or anything."
He said that at Tulane Medical Center employees have asked to leave anywhere from three to four hours early so they're not walking to their cars in the dark.
City Councilwoman Shelly Midura said the city has been working with Entergy to start surveying the streetlights.
"I think we're going to see some serious improvement on the streetlights," she said.
Ron Maggiore, dean of admissions at the University of New Orleans, said while lights on the lakefront campus are still out in some places, that's only one of his university's problems.
"There's not a lot around here," he said. "I need to convince parents that when get off the interstate and they're driving on Elysian Fields they'll see a live campus. ... What we face across the street is literally miles and miles of blackness.
Another problem that Gardner said he sees is a lull in activity in between press conferences and meetings. Victor Ukpolo, chancellor of Southern University at New Orleans agreed.
"We talk, but action needs to come right away," he said.
Daniel Monteverde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.