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Strengthen campus security, Nevada faculty members say

Updated December 12, 2023 - 5:15 pm

College and university faculty members across the state on Tuesday called for emergency campus security upgrades in response to the UNLV shooting last week.

It was the first time the Nevada Board of Regents had met since the Dec. 6 shooting on the UNLV campus inside Beam Hall, which houses the Lee Business School. A gunman killed three faculty members and seriously injured a fourth.

At the beginning of the meeting, Board Chair Byron Brooks asked for a moment of silence to honor the victims and “to reflect upon their contributions to the university.”

“To our students, faculty and staff — and the greater UNLV community — who have been so deeply affected by the senseless act of violence that occurred on the campus, please know that we’re here to support you,” Brooks said. “We stand with you, and we are Rebel Strong and UNLV Strong.”

Faculty members from state schools spoke during a public comment period.

“Our humanity feels imprisoned by a cult of guns,” said Doug Unger, president of the UNLV chapter of the Nevada Faculty Alliance.

After the mass shooting at the university, faculty, staff and students no longer feel safe, he said. He called for emergency assessments of campus security for all NSHE schools.

“It feels inconceivable to return to a campus with blood-stained halls, bashed-in doors, broken glass and triggering memories, but we know we must,” Unger said.

Recognizing university police

Brooks said there are people who should be recognized for their swift action. He presented a certification of appreciation to Adam Garcia, director of the University Police Services Southern Command.

Brooks said the swift action of Garcia’s team members prevented further loss of life from occurring at UNLV.

He also presented a resolution honoring the University Police Services Southern Command.

About a dozen employees were in attendance to accept the resolution, including dispatchers who were fielding calls during the active shooter incident, support staff and police officers.

The audience gave a standing ovation to both Garcia and University Police Services employees.

‘Beam Hall is my building’

During the public comment period, UNLV Faculty Senate Chair Bill Robinson — an assistant professor of economics in the Lee Business School — said: “Beam Hall is my building. Those people are my colleagues and my friends.”

The marketing department was in a meeting and was locked down for four hours in a conference room together not knowing what was going to happen, Robinson said.

When they were allowed to leave the room, their colleague was still there on the floor and the blood was still there, he said.

When colleagues in his department exited the building, he said, they followed the trail of blood from a colleague who had been wounded and managed to extricate himself from the building.

“These are not easy things that we recover from,” Robinson said.

Students also have horrific stories, he said.

Most of the faculty did amazing work of making sure their students were safe, Robinson said, noting some faculty were standing by classroom doors so that if a shooter came in, “it was them.”

He also said it’s important to understand that the victims are all people of color. He said he has heard from faculty of color all over campus that they feel isolated and not part of the campus community.

Robinson said many Black colleagues on campus received a “horrific” email in the middle of the crisis that he can’t even begin to describe. He said the FBI needs to find the person who sent it.

He also addressed the university’s decision to proceed with graduation ceremonies on Dec. 19 and 20, saying he disagrees with the decision and faculty members weren’t involved in the decision-making.

“I do not know why we’re having commencement,” Robinson said, noting it seems “completely tone-deaf to me.”

Robinson also lamented that “the communication has been so poor.”

He said that the university president hasn’t responded to any of his emails or text messages since Dec. 6. Robinson said he has had more contact with other NSHE presidents.

Robinson said that for the 24 years he has been on the Faculty Senate members have been talking about campus security.

When the administration came to the Faculty Senate last year asking what they wanted in the legislative budget, they said security measures such as door locks and cameras.

“That was the only thing we asked for and we didn’t get it,” Robinson said.

As he wrapped up his remarks, he said: “Thoughts and prayers are wonderful, but we’re done with them.”

As he returned to his seat, a couple of Faculty Senate members from other schools stood up to hug him.

Jim New with the Nevada Faculty Alliance said the scars caused by the loss of three faculty and serious injuries to another — as well as “terrorizing an entire university campus” — will last forever.

No words can convey the sorrow, he said.

“This event, unfortunately, has brought into sharp focus just how vulnerable our campuses really are,” New said.

He suggested that regents consider immediately commissioning a study of campus safety and request an emergency supplemental budget appropriation to enhance security at all NSHE institutions.

Kent Ervin with the Nevada Faculty Alliance said that after the shooting at UNLV, it’s hard to focus on regular policy discussions.

Colleagues and students are dealing with trauma, anger, sadness and fear, he said.

Ervin said that on behalf of the Faculty Alliance, he wanted to thank university police for their “heroic and professional response.”

He also thanked President Joe Biden for meeting with UNLV officials, including a representative from the Faculty Alliance.

Faculty Senate chairs from across the state took turns reading a joint statement.

On most campuses, there is no way to lock or secure classroom doors from the inside, said Peter Reed, who is with the Council of Faculty Senate Chairs. He gave a comment from Reno.

He shared examples of security measures at some individual campuses — such as security locks in classrooms at UNR and panic buttons in classrooms at the College of Southern Nevada — and called for them to be expanded systemwide.

He also said it’s important to ensure accessible safety training.

CSN Faculty Senate Chair Patrick Villa continued reading the statement from Las Vegas, saying that the shooting at UNLV revealed some potential challenges in connecting quickly with campus leaders across the system.

He also said that Faculty Senate chairs need to be included in emergency communication trees to allow them to respond accurately to faculty questions.

Villa said there are campus-specific safety apps, but called for a NSHE systemwide app.

He said there’s a need to look at campus layouts to identify potential opportunities to reduce the presence of authorized visitors and reduce suspicious activities, more cameras in key locations and a widely publicized evaluation plan.

Nevada State University Faculty Senate Chair Molly Appel read the last part of the statement, saying: “As a system, we must contend with the fact that all of the people who were murdered or wounded this week were people of color.”

She also referenced reports that the shooter had sought employment at multiple Nevada higher education institutions, but was denied.

Faculty who are serving on search committees find themselves asking if they’re safe, Appel said.

Regent asks to postpone meeting

Regent Heather Brown, who is a UNLV alumna, was sitting in the audience and spoke during the public comment period. She said she wasn’t staying for the rest of the meeting.

She said she disagreed with the decision to hold a meeting, saying only one item on the agenda needed to be addressed before the end of the year and the rest is ancillary.

Brown referenced an email sent by Brooks about proceeding with the meeting, and she asked twice to postpone the meeting because the agenda appears tone deaf after what happened at UNLV.

She said she’s glad time was made for presentations, but it’s not enough and it takes away from the much-needed focus on the aftermath of the shooting.

Brown said she was heading to UNLV’s campus that afternoon to work on an event for students and that’s where the focus should be.

Brooks said that a few people thought there shouldn’t be a meeting Tuesday, but that others — as well as UNLV President Keith Whitfield — felt they should move forward.

Proceeding, for some, is part of the healing process, he said.

‘We will recover’

Whitfield also spoke at the meeting.

“I am keenly aware that there’s a lot of folks that are hurting still,” he said.

Whitfield later said: “I will just say that I am, in general, a pretty positive person. This has rocked me to the core. I hurt for every single one of our folks at UNLV.”

Whitfield said he was appreciative of the support from the community, NSHE, chancellor and Board of Regents — “from virtually everyone.”

He said about the aftermath of the shooting: “I will say that there is no playbook for this.”

“This will forever be a piece of our history, but we will recover,” he said.

Whitfield invited people to attend an outdoor vigil at 2 p.m. Wednesday — which will be held at the north end of UNLV’s Academic Mall near the Lee Pascal Rose Garden — to celebrate the lives of the faculty members who were killed: Jerry Cha-Jan Chang, Patricia Navarro Velez and Naoko Takemaru.

He also said it’s an opportunity to grieve, noting many people haven’t figured out how to grieve or had an avenue to do so.

“This is just one of them,” Whitfield said. “We know that there will be more.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com. Follow @julieswootton on X.

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