I am a proud alumnus of North Adams State College. For as long as I can remember, it has always been a good place to receive a good education. Known back in my day as the "teacher’s college" for its role as a learning center to earn teaching degrees and Massachusetts public school teaching certifications, it has long since blossomed past those humble roots.
Several members of my family, including my youngest son, are also proud graduates of the school. So, my family certainly has a deep respect for North Adams’ small public liberal arts college.
Rebranding the school as a liberal arts college and renaming it the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts at first stung a little for some of us alumnae who were perfectly at ease with the school’s historic name and place. But they have proven to be good decisions, which along with many other improvements, have nurtured and strengthened the school under the stewardship of President Mary Grant. Her time at MCLA is regarded as an unqualified success.
But in the midst of all of this good news and unarguable success, the school’s administration has made a very bizarre decision. They are soon going to allow the MCLA on-campus security force to carry firearms while they are on duty.
Somehow, someone associated with the security department at MCLA has managed to convince the powers-that-be that it makes sense for its nine-member force to be armed with the capability for lethal response. MCLA is a relatively small place. There isn’t much campus to patrol.
Even if you throw in the athletic complex on West Shaft Road on game days, there still isn’t too heavy a burden. It’s tough to understand why the MCLA campus officers can’t continue to safely patrol the campus, as they have for decades, without the benefit of a pistol on their belt. And, just like any other college campus in America, when the extremely rare occasion has developed where more crowd control was required, the NAPD and Massachusetts State Police have always been able to quickly and professionally set things right.
What’s different? What’s happened that suddenly requires MCLA campus cops to carry pistols? The campus crime rate certainly hasn’t gone up. The most recent figures available through the college’s own web site show a whopping 12 crimes were committed on campus in 2010. Two were robberies, one was an aggravated assault, and nine were burglaries. For this we need an armed response?
Another argument that’s been made for arming MCLA officers concerns defending against the horrific campus and public shootings which have occurred in recent times. But in almost every one of these tragedies, the damage is done long before armed response is even possible. And it’s difficult to imagine quarterly trained campus officers who encounter 12 crimes a year being psychologically prepared to successfully shoot it out with a heavily armed madman.
The most troubling aspect of this push to arm MCLA officers is that none of the population they serve wants to see it happen. The student government association (and again, these statistics are all available on the college’s website) voted against it 68 percent to 32 percent. The faculty association conducted two informal surveys, and the vote was against it 93 percent to 7 percent in the first and 87 percent to 13 percent in the second. The closest vote took place amongst the administrators, but even they were against it 44 percent to 42 percent, with 15 percent holding no opinion.
So, on a small, nearly non-violent rural New England college campus in a small rural New England community, where most of the people who will be most affected by the decision themselves disapprove of the idea, the campus security force will now carry handguns.
It’s not too late to reverse this bad and dangerous decision. It will make no one safer. Instead it could destroy, in just one misguided second, all of the good work done for so many years by so many people at MCLA.
Bill Donovan writes regularly for The Advocate. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.