Two days ago someone left a note in a bathroom in the classroom building I teach and work in. The note said there would be a bomb in the building.
The University went into what I would consider a high panic mode. The initial response was to close the building, and bring in dogs to do a sweep (after calling the FBI). This was appropriate, even though the threat was considered low to moderate.
They then sent an email to all 20,000 students alerting them, that classes would not be cancelled, but that only two entrances to the building would be open, and anyone entering would be subject to a search of all bags/purses.
So, yesterday morning, they started the day with another sweep with the dogs. I have nothing against that. Made sense. It was an appropriate response. Nothing was found. And then they began what is turning into a 3 day long security theater facade. All with the best intentions of course, but a reaction that far exceeds the nature of the threat.
The lines for warrantless, suspicion-less, searches was incredibly long. But more importantly, the administration completely ignored the constitutional rights of the faculty, staff, and students who use the building. There is NO established exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirements of probable cause and a warrant to conduct a search. Yet, in the post-911 world of a culture of fear, all reason and rights go out the door with any threat. Even a juvenile act of leaving a piece of paper in a bathroom.
What is sad is that most students seemed to accept the violation of their rights, like sheep going to the slaughterhouse. A few protested “you do not have to consent to a search to go to class!” Members of the administration were seen outside the building joking, “ok, you can frisk me!” as if this was all perfectly acceptable. Yet, it is not funny, nor is it acceptable. Our rights should not be jettisoned just at the mere mention of the words public safety. ”Security measures” in an airport are bad enough, but they should not be given free reign to throw away rights to enter a classroom building on a state university campus. IF the threat was REAL, they would have closed the building. I know if I thought the threat was real, I wouldn’t have taught in the building, or even have been there. Heck, I am not dying in that building. And I think I have a far greater risk of death from the building’s elevator, than from a bomb.
I protected my own constitutional rights, by not bringing my bag with me. I was not going to consent to an illegal search – not because I had ANYTHING to hide; but because my privacy rights do not require me to consent in such a situation. Privacy and security are not mutually exclusive. You do not have to give up privacy for security.
Faculty were told if they felt “uncomfortable” they could cancel classes (I don’t think anyone did), some students emailed, saying they weren’t coming to class, as they were nervous. Administrators were going from classroom to classroom to see if classes were occurring, marking something down on a clipboard. Deans instructed department chairs to account for their faculty; we were told to tell our chair when we entered or left the building.
It was security theater. And at the end of the day, there was no bomb. I mean come on, how many times have notes like this been found on college campuses? This is what happens when we live in a culture of fear, in a national insecurity state. In that culture of fear, there is a tendency to over-react, lest one is accused of “not doing enough.” There is a tendency to take measures that inadvertently create more fear than is warranted.
YET the charade of security theater continues for at least two more days.
Will the sheep continue to be complacent today if it rains mid-morning?