Two months after the Chancellor tasked them with rebuilding bridges between UNC police and the campus community, members of the Campus Safety Commission expressed a lack of clarity on their mission. They spent their third meeting discussing semantics and the purpose of their work.
“All of us around this table are not on the same page about what we’re supposed to be doing,” said resiliency and student support programs coordinator and commission co-chairperson DeVetta Holman Nash, after a discussion regarding the commission’s formal charge got into the weeds.
The Campus Safety Commission has had two other meetings to date.
In May, the Commission met to discuss their mission, responsibilities and outlooks on the future. This included writing down what each member felt the most pressing situation was for the University at the time.
The Commission met in June to discuss and explore policing practices on campus, citing issues related to the handling of the Silent Sam demonstrations. This included raising the concern that many members of the commission believe there is a disconnect between campus police and the student body.
Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz formed the Campus Safety Commission in response to a breakdown in student-police relations, among other issues, and presented them with a guiding charge to help them navigate the process of repairing the community’s trust in law enforcement.
“The Chancellor said that there is a crisis of trust on this campus,” said Lawrence Grossberg, a professor in the communications department. “And that seems to be at least our starting point.”
Issues came up during the meeting about the ambiguity of the group's role. Some committee members pointed out contradictions in the document that would inhibit the commission’s authority and reach, while others argued it wasn't their role to question the Chancellor, and the commission should continue work with the material available to them.
“This is one where I think trying to get this specific into this level of distance from actual work is not necessary,” commission member Richard Myers said.
In the charge to the commission, the Chancellor instructs the group to serve as a liaison between University Police and the broader University community, and to receive complaints regarding safety, but he prohibits them from providing direct oversight or management over University police.
“We just complain to the Chancellor and ask him to fix it,” co-chairperson Frank Baumgartner of the political science department joked at one point.
“How can we complain if we don’t have access?” Grossberg responded.
Multiple members said the charge was too vague, inhibiting the commission's ability to spur tangible progress. Questions arose about the extent of the group's reach — "campus safety" could refer to any number of issues, some argued, like building safety or tripping on bricks.
“Safety is a broad thing and there's probably some merit in us trying to get some narrowing of that,” said Kim Strom-Gottfried, director of the Office of Ethics Education and Policy Management.
The commission eventually decided to proceed with the charge as it was written, holding off on revisions for now.
The Campus Safety Commission will deliver an annual report to the chancellor in May, a culmination of their work, which should help the administration navigate the sensitive environment on campus when it comes to relationships with the police.
Mary Beth Koza, executive director of the Office of Environment, Health and Safety, said the commission should consolidate concerns about the charge and other issues from members of the commission and the community, then move forward.
“I would like to stop discussing the definition of campus safety,” she said. “You only get trust if people see you doing something.”
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