Editorial: Frightening e-mail makes matters worse

Last Friday, officials from the University Facilities Management Office sent an e-mail to all students, faculty and staff alerting the campus to a series of heightened security measures taken by Villanova’s Emergency Preparedness Task Force. These guidelines were adopted as a result of the federal government’s warnings that the country was at a heightened risk for terrorist attacks.

In the e-mail, it is made clear that Public Safety officers will be patrolling the campus around the clock and that more officers will be making the rounds than ever before. In terms of immediate changes, though, the e-mail vaguely reads that the University will be “enhancing our overall security posture” and refers other concerns to the Public Safety website. In the event of an emergency, several resources are detailed to get information.

We believe there are several flaws to this approach. First of all, students without main campus hangtags are now denied access to all University grounds. However, parents who drove to campus were permitted access this weekend, as many of them showed up for the Villanova-UConn basketball game on Saturday. This creates a double standard that is unfair to students, but is also senseless in its execution.

If a terrorist actually believed Villanova to be a viable target for an attack, would he or she specifically target students? Adults posing as parents would likely constitute an equal, if not greater, risk than students seeking a place to park. It’s unfair to punish students while allowing others access to the University grounds.

More pressing, however, is the e-mail itself. Yes, we do live in dangerous times. It was less than two years ago that the country was reeling from the blow to its Twin Towers and the Pentagon. And with a war against Iraq looming in the near future, it is logical to feel more vulnerable to foreign attacks.

But sending an e-mail to the entire University essentially announcing only the increased presence of Public Safety is dangerous and irresponsible. A visit to the website shown in the e-mail — a link few readers probably clicked — reports information that is fairly standard operating procedure.

Hitting people with the shock that they should be under heightened alert, and then telling them not to allow unknown people to use keys or combinations to enter buildings or dorms, is sending a paradoxical message of panic and regularity. The effects of this could put the entire school on edge, leading to a variety of problems resulting from unnecessary fear. On the other hand, it might simply desensitize students to the point where, in times of real danger, such warnings will be simply ignored altogether. Neither result is productive or desirable.

The University should retract the implied threat of the message with a second mass mailing. It’s good that officials are preparing for the worst, but if they are going to do so, a real plan needs to be formulated and it should be thorough and comprehensive. Students should follow all the normal safety guidelines on the website, but not because they’re afraid of a swarm of approaching terrorists.