Safeguarding Campus Assets

Sept. 1, 2002
Colleges and universities have sensitive and valuable materials and programs that require more than routine security.

On a college or university campus, the safety of students, staff and visitors is a key consideration, so police and security officers pay close attention to the places where people spend the most time — residence halls, classrooms, lecture halls and offices.

But campuses are made up of a lot more than that. A school might be home to sensitive and secretive research projects that require restricted access and closer scrutiny, especially in the climate following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

A campus also might have other facilities that warrant special vigilance: laboratories with dangerous chemicals, libraries with rare volumes, museums with valuable and historically significant artifacts, and walls and corridors dotted with athletic trophies, paintings or sculptures.

To be able to provide enough security to watch over its people and property, a college or university needs to have a grasp of what items are on campus, where they can be found, what significance they hold for the school, and what risks they may pose to students, employees and visitors.

“We have some 500 buildings,” says Patrick Maughan, director of security services at Ohio State University in Columbus. “There are a lot of things around campus that need to be protected.”

Heightened vigilance

Colleges and universities traditionally partner with government agencies to conduct research. Many of those projects are housed in campus facilities and because of their sensitive nature, require greater than average security. Since last year's terrorist attacks, schools are focusing more attention on whether the level of security is adequate.

“My sense is that there has been some beefing up of the requirements for security in the contracts coming from the government,” says Greg Hallstrom, director of industrial security at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Often, the level of security required for a government-funded research program is dictated in the contract.

“If a contract says you must have a security system or a badge system, the contract will include funding to pay for the additional requirements,” says Hallstrom.

In some cases, a college or university may decide to reject a government contract if it feels that the requirements would be too restrictive. Hallstrom says that many schools involved in government-funded research are wrestling with regulations related to export controls in an effort to balance national security interests with the traditional academic values of openness and non-discrimination. Those regulations might force colleges to exclude students and staff from certain countries from working on research projects.

“Schools have to decide if they are willing to take on the restrictions,” says Hallstrom.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, concern about post-Sept. 11 campus security led a faculty committee to recommend that any classified research conducted by the school be housed off campus (see sidebar below).

Police and security personnel on college campuses have consistently emphasized the need for adequate security, but since the terrorist attacks, their point of view is carrying greater weight with others on campus.

“We've always strived to stress the need for security,” says Lt. Brian Weimer with the University of Missouri-Columbia police. “After Sept. 11, other people have realized that greater efforts are needed to ensure we are providing sufficient security. It needs to be a team effort.”

Making a list

Not every campus has to deal with classified research or other highly sensitive information, but most colleges and universities have valuable items, historically significant facilities or important artifacts that need more than routine security. Ohio State's Maughan compares the situation to a person's attic, where piles of junk may be sitting next to priceless heirlooms and objects of great personal meaning to the owner.

“We've got a lot of attics at Ohio State,” says Maughan.

Several years ago, Maughan initiated an effort to create an inventory of the many items on the Ohio State campus that have monetary, historical or artistic value. The security staff took photographs of the items; created a central database that described the item; evaluated what kind of security the item required; and recommended any changes needed.

“Some of the items are very valuable,” says Maughan. “With other things, it's not so much the monetary value, it's the historical value and the significance to the university.”

In one case, a painting was found hanging haphazardly on the wall of a building; after tracking down information about it, the security staff determined it was valued at $1 million. In another case, security officials found that the university had placed Heisman trophies (Buckeye players have won six) in public display cases with little or no security provided.

Depending on the circumstances, Maughan says, the security staff recommended security improvements such as alarms, locks, closed-circuit cameras or relocating items to more secure areas. Sometimes, the recommendations are less about security than general upkeep. After determining that an item has significant monetary or historical value, the staff may recommend that it be moved out of direct sunlight or away from an open window.

Maughan says he believes that other colleges and universities can benefit from creating an inventory similar to the one at Ohio State.

“There are a lot of things on campuses that are not being protected the way that they should,” he says.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].


▪ 26,543

Number of on-campus burglaries reported at U.S. colleges and universities, 2000.

▪ 1,933

Number of on-campus robberies reported at U.S. colleges and universities, 2000.

▪ 1,091

Number of on-campus arrests for illegal weapons possession, 2000

▪ 1,260

Number of on-campus arson incidents reported at U.S. colleges and universities, 2000.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education

SIDEBAR: A safe distance

One way to avoid potential campus security problems inherent in sensitive or classified research projects is to conduct the research away from campus.

That is the conclusion of a report, “In the Public Interest,” prepared by the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee On Access To And Disclosure Of Scientific Information at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. The school has a long history of involvement in government-sponsored research.

The report notes that since Sept. 11, 2001, laws have become more stringent regarding access to certain research materials and information as well as disclosure of research results. The committee believed that keeping an open research environment and a free flow of information on the MIT campus was vital.

“We recommend that no classified research should be carried out on campus, that no student, graduate or undergraduate, should be required to have a security clearance to perform thesis research, and that no theses research should be carried out in areas requiring access to classified materials,” the report says.

The committee says that many off-campus facilities are available where MIT faculty could conduct sensitive research. The most prominent of those is Lincoln Laboratory, a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) operated by MIT in Lexington, Mass., about 20 miles from the Cambridge campus.

The committee's full report can be found at

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