Serious conversations about better assessing campus safety began at Oakland University well before Jared Lee Loughner’s troubled past and displays of erratic behavior on an Arizona community college campus were brought into the public eye.
According to OUPD Chief Samuel Lucido, a joint recommendation from the Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education was given in 2004 to establish threat assessment teams at schools. This sparked a national conversation about how to better evaluate minor problems before they became major incidents.
OU administrators wanted to do a better job of assessing situations that could potentially lead to violence, said Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Beth Snyder.
Snyder said that a discussion between various university professionals began shortly after the Columbine shootings.
“Oakland has an excellent system of communication with people who deal with behavioral issues,” Snyder said.
The “Report and Support” form on OU’s website allows students, staff and faculty to report any abnormal behaviors that may be exhibited by other members of the campus community. That is not limited to fellow students alone.
Dean of Students Glenn McIntosh said it was important the program was far-reaching and did not target students only and that it was “necessary for this to be a fair procedure.”
Once reported on the online form, inquiries are sent to an assessment team made up of Snyder, McIntosh, OUPD Lieutenant Mel Gilroy and two psychologists. The measures were put in place after the 2007 shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech.
“(The team) only comes together if (a situation) has raised questions in the mind of the person who is observing something or made aware of a situation to the level of this is more serious than what we normally handle in the course of our work,” Snyder said.
Loughner’s recent rampage then made the program more crucial than ever.
In a campus-wide e-mail, Snyder said “tragedies such as the Tucson incident can never completely be prevented,” but believes that threats could be minimized through the usage of “Report and Support.”
Students, staff and faculty have the option of filling out the online form anonymously, though the Dean of Students office and OUPD also receive similar reports every day. The office and police station both also become depositories for the types of reports that “Report and Support” seeks to collect.
“Sometimes you get the bystander effect,” McIntosh said of people not always reporting strange behaviors they see on campus. “That’s the opportunity to safely impact our entire campus community.”
Someone who is struggling will often begin to act out in different areas of campus and the assessment team may also become aware of people who pose a potential threat to surrounding community members or themselves because of that.
President Gary Russi has delegated the responsibility of stabilizing threatening non-emergency situations to the assessment team chaired by Snyder. Once a report is collected about a potential problem, the person is taken aside to meet with the team.
Psychological assessment may be necessary to better identify potential issues the student may have and better dictate the actions of the panel.
“There is a team approach to evaluating the behavior and that’s why we have the psychologists give a recommendation based on what they know about human behavior,” Snyder said. “It’s been very helpful.”
McIntosh said the panel then has the authority to make the recommendation that a person poses enough of a threat to campus and must therefore be removed via a medical withdrawal.
He said it is not a suspension per se, but that the person must go through a process to re-enter campus that includes documentation of their mental health.
A refund of tuition would be issued if the person were a student and housing fees would be prorated in the case of a withdrawal.
“We are not positioning the student for financial hardship,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh and Snyder both said they have had to call the assessment group together to examine four or five cases in the past year.
“We’ve done a very good job here,” Snyder said. “We don’t overreact but we certainly don’t want to underreact either.”
To report behavioral concerns online at the Report and Support website, visit www.oakland.edu/behavioralconcern. Concerns can also be reported via phone to the Dean of Student’s office at 248-370-3352 or OUPD at 248-370-3331. In case of emergency, call 911.