Editor’s Note: The following is a first person account of a Collegian investigation into the blue light emergency phones on campus. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, or of related issues that would complicate the lives of students and current and former employees, many of the sources asked to remain anonymous. After careful consideration, I made an editorial decision to grant anonymity. This is not something I do lightly. However, you will find that the most of the quotes of anonymous sources are corroborated by other sources.
Throughout the summer and fall of 2017, Collegian staff members received several anecdotal reports from students that had used the blue light emergency phones on campus to contact Campus Security, to no avail.
Piecing together these accounts, we learned that allegedly several of the phones either didn’t work at all or had a dial tone but the calls to Campus Security never went through.
The students cited the experience of being unable to use the emergency phone as one of their primary complaints regarding campus safety.
Aware and supportive of TU’s recent recommitment to campus safety, we took these complaints seriously. As a staff, we contemplated how to go about investigating this issue.
A couple of weeks before thanksgiving break we had assembled a team whose goal would be to catalog each blue box on campus and then routinely test them to see if they were in working order. However, the team opted not to go through with the investigation for fear of clogging up emergency phone lines and angering Campus Security.
We moved on to other stories with the idea that we might come back to that story when we had a larger staff, a better plan and finals weren’t looming ahead of us. We concluded our fall semester publication November 12.
However, on November 13 a former Campus Security employee contacted the Collegian via Facebook to report that several of the phones did not work and that Campus Security had documentation demonstrating that fact.
“Before I left I had a document of every specific phone that didn’t work. It looked to be about a third of them,” the officer said.
“The security department actually does check the phones every month, marking the ones that work and the ones that don’t,” the officer said. “The problem is, no one ever follows up on repairing them.”
This problem was corroborated by a second former Campus Security officer who said, “Only about 60 percent of blue phones were actually working when I quit and that number was fairly consistent for the three years I worked in security.”
“Some of the phones will even give a ‘your call cannot be completed as dialed’ message which is bad considering there is only the one red button,” the second officer said.
The following day I wrote and submitted two copies of a records request to Mona Chamberlain, TU’s director of marketing and communications, and to Joe Timmons, TU’s director of campus security. In the letter I requested documents showing the maintenance checks of the blue emergency phones for the last five years.
On November 15, I photographed maintenance crews working on one of the blue phones located at the Mayo Village entrance.
On January 13, I received an email from Chamberlain with TU’s response. The following statement is attributed to Richard Kearns, TU’s chief information officer.
“TU has 41 ‘blue light’ phones on campus. After being contacted by The Collegian in November 2017, staff tested each of the phones and found 11 were not functioning properly. Those 11 were repaired immediately, and the monthly test at the beginning of January 2018 indicated all were in working order.
Prior to November, when Campus Security tested the blue light phones, reports were submitted to a system that funneled to a single IT staff member. When that employee retired in 2017, the reports were not redirected. The solution is that any phone outages be submitted through the information technology ticketing system via firstname.lastname@example.org. This ensures that more than one staff member sees the tickets and that the work orders are completed expeditiously. In addition to monthly checks by security officers, IT staff has been directed to test the phones regularly.
Also, the courtesy phones installed at residence halls and near other doors on campus are checked monthly by Campus Security and any malfunctions will follow the same reporting procedure via email@example.com. Students and faculty who have trouble with technology on campus also are encouraged to report the problems to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The phones are all in working order, which is hopefully a comfort to many.
I was not granted access to the records I requested at press time. As a private institution, TU is not legally required to honor records requests. Without access to maintenance records there is no way to confirm or dispute the account given by the two former officers as to the length of the maintenance neglect.
A word from Editor-in-Chief Kayleigh Thesenvitz
My goal in reporting this story, in this format, was two-fold. The first is to spread the news that TU has all of its emergency phones back in working order. The second is, by showing the process of this work, to remind readers of the importance of transparency.
I hope you will forgive me for editorializing for a brief moment. In my opinion TU is a great institution — truly and deeply committed to the honorable goal of educating and caring for its students. Yet, as with any large institution, it suffers from a lack of self-reflection in the minutia of its day-to-day functions.
Journalists, especially student journalists who live in and think critically about this environment every day, are perfectly poised to provide the mirror by which TU views its successes and failures. A clear view of oneself is necessary for true progress.
As students we want to see TU advance too. Even students who aren’t bubbling over with school pride have a pragmatic interest in the continued self-improvement of the university. After all, as TU rises, so does the value of our degrees.
The Collegian cannot perform this role if we are regularly blinded by TU’s desire to never be embarrassed. TU has every legal right to deny us access, but I argue it is in the university’s best interest to let us in.
The relationship between any institution and the media is usually seen as an adversarial one. It doesn’t need to be that way at TU. We both have the same goal. Let’s work together.