HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania college and university administrators said yesterday that they were taking a look at tighter security measures after the killings at Virginia Tech, but wanted to preserve an open atmosphere on campus.
They told the state Senate Education Committee that they were devoting special attention to improving ways to alert students and staff to emergencies.
Options they are considering include campus sirens and systems that send text-messages to students' cell phones - a measure in use at Pennsylvania State University.
Making universities safe yet accessible is a delicate balancing act, testified Steven Dupes, assistant vice chancellor for facilities at the State System of Higher Education, which oversees 14 universities.
"Our campuses are not military installations with clearly defined, fenced, gated and patrolled perimeters, with strict command and controlled occupancy," Dupes said. "They are open, free-flowing spaces."
Investigating student behavior that could pose a threat is another challenge, testified Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College. She said professors at her school had apparently become more sensitive to informing administrators about potential problems since the Virginia Tech shootings, which left 33 people dead, including the student gunman, on April 16.
"We've had more student issues in the last 10 days than we've had for the entire academic year," Stout said. "The challenge is to investigate those situations and to do it in a way where we are protecting the student's rights, but we are also respecting the faculty member and their concerns."
After the hearing, Sen. James Rhoades, the committee's chairman, said he wanted to establish a statewide information clearinghouse for colleges and universities to share ideas for improving security.