The Johns Hopkins University / March 27, 1997
A. Violence in the Workplace: A National Problem
During the past several years, many organizations have been forced to face the problem of violence in the workplace. Most of them do so in the throes of an agonizing reappraisal of their management and policies after a tragic event. Others push themselves only when a pattern of events or problems rises above the employee relations "noise level." In 1993, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety reported that from 1980 to 1989 there were 7600 occupational homicides and that homicide represented the third leading cause of death in the workplace. Results of a 1993 Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) survey stated that 70% of the responding organizations had no specific policy dealing with workplace violence, and 69% had no plans for developing one. The available national statistics offer compelling evidence of the need to pursue such action and to take other specific steps to deal with the problem.
In 1992, the Center for Disease Control reported that there were over two million incidents in which people were violently attacked at their work place during that year alone. Violence is in fact the second leading cause of workplace death for women. These statistics do not take into account the daily human toll that threats and poorly managed conflicts create for organizations across the country. Sources of these incidents include spousal abuse; sexual harassment; ethnic violence and hate crimes; terrorist attacks both national and international; criminal attacks including homicide, rape, muggings, robberies, direct physical assaults; exchanges of threats; and, at the lowest level, mean spirited pranks and belligerent behavior. Universities are not free of the effects of this trend or these incidents. Dorothy Seigel provided a set of case studies involving university responses to violent situations that ranged from date rape to serial killings off campus in her recent book Campuses Respond to Violent Tragedy. University leaders across the country are struggling to develop systematic responses to these problems.
There are three basic forms of workplace violence. The first involves situations in which an employee inflicts threats or acts of violence on another employee. The second consists of instances involving a third party who threatens or injures employees. And the third is composed of circumstances in which an employee injures a third party. Each of these types of violence creates risks for the employees and management of any organization. Each also produces a set of potential legal liabilities that are included under such topics as the general duty clause, responsibilities as premises owner or lessee, negligent hiring, negligent retention, and negligent supervision. As these trends have emerged during the last two decades, it has become clear that universities are now responsible for developing policies and programs that will address the threat of violence in the workplace as it might affect faculty, staff, students, or visitors to campus.
B. The National Perspective on the Correlates of Campus Violence
As America's colleges and universities entered the 1990's, a cluster of legislation and regulation highlighted a new reality: campuses are far from immune to crime and violence. The Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act, the Campus Sexual Assault Victim's Bill of Rights, and the re-examination and loosening of some restrictions required by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) benchmark the efforts of educators, legislators, students, and their parents to address burgeoning campus safety issues spurred by worrisome statistics and anecdotal evidence.
Among the statistics:
At Homewood, while none of the three suicides and one fatal shooting that compose the four violent deaths experienced during the past ten years were alcohol related, disciplinary records do reveal that alcohol is a relevant factor in a number of instances. In 1993/94, 23 cases were heard before the student conduct board; 9 involved alcohol. In 1994/95, 35 cases were heard and 11 involved alcohol. Last year, in 1995/96, 25 cases were heard and six involved alcohol. While alcohol consumption is not the only cause of problem behavior, it plays a crucial role that cannot be ignored.
Just as violence in the workplace is a national problem, violent behavior on college campuses is a distressing reality of contemporary life.
C. The Context at Johns Hopkins
Our surveys of other universities provided data that make clear that virtually no campus has been spared some exposure to acts of violence. (See Appendices A and B for the complete summary of results.) Compared to these other colleges and universities, however, Hopkins has experienced a very low incidence of campus violence. This is one of the Committee's key findings. Under the provisions of the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act, the Campus Security offices at Hopkins and all other institutions of higher education must annually report on campus crime statistics. A review of those data suggest that, despite the violence in the country at large, and in the Baltimore community in particular, the Hopkins campus has been relatively safe. (See Appendix C). Even when one includes the lesser offense of common assault, which is not by regulation included in the annual security report, the number of incidents at Hopkins is low (See Appendix D.)
As part of the Committee's study, we also asked the student affairs deans in the various Hopkins' schools to review their records and to report on any serious incidents of violence, including student suicides. There have been very few such occurrences on the Hopkins campuses and no indication of any increasing trends. In the past ten years, there have been a total of two violent deaths (including one unsolved off-campus murder) of Hopkins students, and four suicides on campus. Peabody, Nursing, Continuing Studies, Medicine, and Public Health have experienced no student fatalities by violent means, while SAIS suffered the loss of one student by suicide. The other three suicides and two deaths by violence have been Homewood campus students. The Committee shares the assessment of student affairs officers that Hopkins has suffered fewer major incidents of campus violence than other institutions. Nonetheless, any one incident that causes harm to a member of the university community or violates the sense of security that allows campus faculty, students, and staff to pursue their work or study in an atmosphere of order and calm is one incident too many, and its ramifications are felt not only by those directly affected, but also by the wider community.
The Committee was also eager to learn whether any common factors characterized the few serious campus incidents at Hopkins. Should such factors be found to exist, some proactive steps might be taken. In the aftermath of any incident, especially the most recent Hopkins tragedy, it is understandable that emotions run high and that the tendency is to search for causes that may be rooted in endemic factors. From our review of the particular circumstances of each student death or serious injury due to violence over a ten year period, we could identify no common factors. Each of the incidents seemed to involve either random violence or behavior that could not have been predicted. We found no evidence that environmental factors at Johns Hopkins (such as the often cited intense academic pressure) give rise to behaviors that lead to violence, nor did we find any evidence that we attract to this community individuals who are, in any disproportionate way, prone to violence. It is our conclusion that the University is simply not immune to the psychopathologies that unfortunately affect some people in our society.
The Committee does, however, make several recommendations that seek to minimize the possibility of violent incidents and to strengthen the University's ability to respond to campus crises, and a word about our view of the general state of campus practices is therefore in order. From its discussion of campus security programs, the Committee concluded that, while marginal improvements can be made, in general, well-thought-out protocols and procedures are in place for both Homewood Student Affairs and Homewood Campus Security. In fact, measured against what at least two experts regard as recommended campus practices, Homewood compares very well and has instituted the large majority of a long list of suggested programs and policies. The protocols for responding to a crisis involving a student were reviewed as recently as last spring and revised to include appropriate support from the Chaplain's Office. Peabody has begun to develop similar procedures and has drafted a written protocol for dealing with student deaths. Broader discussions about crisis management are under way. As will be evident from our recommendations below, we urge that all divisions adopt such clear procedures.
On the staff side, the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FASAP) has developed a set of prescribed actions to be taken when there is the threat of workplace violence. Human Resource officers in each of the divisions have been briefed on these procedures, and resources are available to assist managers and co-workers who must confront an incident. Nonetheless, the Committee was perplexed to learn that there has been a fairly dramatic increase in the number of potentially violent staff members referred for formal evaluation. The reasons for this trend, which seems to run counter to the decline in violent crimes nationally, are still being evaluated. It should be noted that, over the past several years, the external threat of violence to those who work or study in the University divisions situated in East Baltimore has diminished due to a significant enhancement of the security operations. At Homewood, improvements to lighting, additional security officers, and escort services have been helping to control the incursion of community crime. Aggressive efforts at the Peabody campus have also enhanced the safety of faculty, students, staff, and visitors.
Two other general matters should be noted before we present the Committee's recommendations. First, the Committee was reminded of the importance of cultural norms in conditioning attitudes toward physical violence. In cases of domestic violence, for example, it is not unusual to encounter victims from some cultural backgrounds who think that a woman should be willing to accept a degree of violence as a natural part of a relationship. In responding to campus violence in a community as culturally diverse as Johns Hopkins, it will be important to understand the various components of diversity that the University must take into account in these situations and that may affect the possible options and approaches.
Second, the Committee on several occasions noted the importance of maintaining good communication. Notwithstanding that the rights of privacy dictate confidentiality about many personal matters, an adequate program of campus violence prevention requires an exchange of information among those with a critical need to know. In sections F and G below, we make some specific recommendations about this matter. With respect to student incidents, it is also important for parents to understand the University's policies and to arrive at shared expectations with their sons and daughters about the obligation to keep parents informed. At least for Homewood undergraduates, we were encouraged by the general willingness of student affairs administrators to risk criticism from students by erring on the side of open communication with parents, but it is clear that in the vast majority of campus incidents, the first obligation to parents lies with the student him or herself. That the University invites parents to share their concerns at any time and encourages them to relay information about circumstances which leave them uneasy should be reiterated.
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