The biggest item on the agenda for the faculty meeting last Monday was not drafted by an official faculty committee, but by interested professors who wished to respond to complaints made about Campus Safety this past year, in particular its treatment of students of color and lack of diverse hiring.
Chair and Professor of History Konrad Hamilton presented the initial concept to the faculty. A task force would be created to focus on, as stated in the proposal, “the practice of hiring Galesburg police officers and Hill Correctional prison guards as campus safety officers, efforts toward recruiting campus safety officers of color, diversity and de-escalation training for all campus safety officers,” and “additional measures to improve relations between students of color and campus safety officers.”
Hamilton said the proposal was put together by members of the faculty who “were interested in moving our sympathies forward and listening to the students forward and taking some action … We want to get information, accurate information. There are a lot of stories out there. There are a lot of allegations.”
Hamilton called the problem “systemic” and considered the task force to be the best way to tackle problems head on.
However, Chair and Professor of Political Science and International Relations Sue Hulett raised two major concerns about the proposal. As originally proposed, the faculty Task Force would conduct the investigation themselves and they did not have the oversight of President Teresa Amott.
“I really think we need some professional outside investigation, if it is as deep and pervasive as some of us suggest,” Hulett said at the meeting. “To have the faculty within a span of two months, three months to do this deep investigation, I think that’s just not going to be sufficient.”
In addition, she questioned whether students would willingly waive their FERPA confidentiality rights to members of the faculty.
On the second concerns, Hulett said, “It also seems to me incredible that you want to do an investigation outside of the parameters of the administration and outside the parameters of the Director of Campus Safety.”
Amott put her support behind the proposal as amended, combining faculty involvement in improving relations between students and Campus Safety and bringing in an outside investigator.
In a statement, Amott said, “Faculty members have student evaluations, academic departments have periodic reviews in which faculty from other colleges visit the campus and assess our departments, and administrative offices also review their policies and practices from time to time. In this case, coordinating a review by a faculty task force with outside experts can help us achieve the mission of Campus Safety to protect and serve every member of the Knox community.”
The revised initiative replaced a faculty investigation with a professional investigator and included Amott in the process. Placed to a paper vote, the proposal passed with 72 for, 11 against.
The concerns regarding the lack of involvement of Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf were not addressed in the final proposal, so it is uncertain at this point how much Schlaf will be involved. Schlaf first learned of the Campus Safety Task Force through a TKS inquiry. Via email, he highlighted the restructuring of Campus Safety that occurred in the 2007-2008 year, with one of the primary issues being the importance of training and proper experience for Campus Safety officers.
“Any effort that would continue to improve the delivery of Safety Services to any member of the Knox Community, would be supported by the Department,” Schlaf said. “On a personal level, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss all of the safety issues that may be developed by an effectively managed Task Force. It would be my hope to participate as requested or desired.”
Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Faculty Diversity Committee Daniel Beers spoke positively of the task force afterward.
“I think there’s understandable concerns and criticisms about the way the college has handled some recent events. … But I think it’s also important to note that I think the college actually is responding in some concrete ways.”
Amott put her support behind the proposal as amended, combining faculty involvement in improving relations between students and Campus Safety and bringing in an outsider investigator.
Student reactions were mixed.
“I feel like those sort of issues are some of the biggest issues people in the Knox community have with the college,” freshmen Lauren Sparks said in support of the task force.
Sophomore Kaly Davidson agreed, encouraged that the investigation would be launched this year.
“They actually want to make a change and they are acting on it. I think that’s awesome,” Davidson said.
Other students felt that they did not have the knowledge to know whether this would be a helpful investigation or not, citing lack of personal experience with racial discrimination and good relations with the Campus Safety officers. At this time, it is unknown when the investigation will begin.
“What was exciting to me from yesterday was that I think that in some ways this was the most visible and most concrete response to date,” Beers said. “I think the message really needs to be conveyed that we hear the students and hear what their concerns are. … It’s not going to stop with these proposals, but I think they’re a step in right direction.”