Duke’s security dilemma

Aug. 31, 2013 @ 04:17 PM

We understand the dilemma in which Duke University officials must find themselves over campus security – its reality, and the perceptions of it.

The campus clearly was unsettled by an armed robbery last Sunday. This was not in some slightly out of the way pocket of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, where two incidents of robbery have occurred lately. It wasn’t some darkened corner of East Campus or a deserted Blue Zone parking lot.

It was in the very heart of campus, between Bostock and Perkins libraries, just a couple minutes’ walk from the Duke Chapel quad, from the bus stop at the heart of West Campus and from Allen Building, the seat of the university’s top administration.

Even late on a Sunday evening hours before the fall academic term began, it is an area frequented by students.  It is not a place we would imagine any student would before Sunday have felt the slightest twinge of risk.

Students and their parents would understandably be worried – and administrators undoubtedly are groping with the appropriate countermeasures. Already, more security is visible on campus in the evenings.

But one possibility suggested in the immediate aftermath of the robbery is fraught, as officials must know – and probably why they’ve floated it without making a final decision.

The school is considering closing off some roads through campus during some overnight hours.

That, admittedly, is a fairly narrow response.  In some ways, it underscores the limited options – a campus that sprawls across thousands of acres can hardly be locked down.  The prospect of closing roads has met a skeptical response from, among others, the student newspaper. Its editorial last week acknowledged that “the University has a responsibility to effectively address the issue of campus security.”

But it cautioned against what it saw as possible overreaction to the Sunday incident.

“The administration’s proposal to close roads around Duke’s campus, such as Towerview Road, does more harm than good,” the paper’s editorial board argued. “The proposal does not address the likely causes of Sunday’s robbery. A campus lockdown of this sort would also severely restrict student movement on and off campus….”

“Furthermore, closing down roads around campus fuels unwarranted hysteria about the incident and reinforces the myth that Durham is crime-ridden and dangerous, a falsehood that has continually undermined town-and-gown relations.”

We appreciate those sentiments coming from the campus side of the relationship. In fact, we have no doubt that the university’s administrators, who have invested heavily, with both time and money, in strengthening this community and the school’s relationship with it, are wary of doing anything that would undermine those efforts.

Duke University is an internationally respected, top-tier research university. It’s also our neighbor – a fact from which this community benefits greatly.  It has been in many ways an indulgent neighbor, inviting us in for any manner of sports, cultural and intellectual events – not to mention just to enjoy its imposing architecture and gracious gardens.

We hope its efforts to respond to security concerns can do nothing to erode that neighborly relationship.