University of Connecticut students arriving on campus this weekend can expect changes following a tumultuous year for administration and campus safety.
The murder of football player Jasper Howard last October, the death of student Jafar Karzoun after a Spring Weekend assault last April and a year peppered with on- and off-campus assaults caused university officials to rethink campus safety.
Former UConn president Michael Hogan created a “task force” last May to de-escalate the parties and large crowds during the annual Spring Weekend. Shortly after forming the task force, Hogan resigned his post at UConn for the University of Illinois, leaving many in shock over what seemed like an abrupt decision.
UConn’s Board of Trustees recently announced a 39-member advisory committee and plans to hire a consulting firm to help find a new president. Despite Hogan’s absence, his original task force will continue formulating new safety recommendations for this year’s Spring Weekend in April.
Lawrence McHugh, UConn’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees, said presidential search plans are well underway.
“The committee met in mid-July and we’re meeting again in mid-September,” he said. “We have a national search group in place. We’ve done the scope that we had to do of the university to get out to candidates so they know exactly what the university is doing and what we’re looking for in a new president.”
He said he hopes the committee finds a new leader by early December.
The committee boasts an academically and socially diverse group of people. Members range from Governor M. Jodi Rell and members of UConn’s Board of Trustees to alumni and students. Some UConn students feel the committee needs more student representation, however.
Jason Ortiz, an independent candidate for state representative of the 54th district and a student activist within UConn’s Student Coalition on Reprioritizing Education, feels student input needs a louder voice.
“From our understanding of it, there’s two students out of 39 members,” he said. “Not exactly a fair representation of students on the committee. SCORE might try and see what we can do to get more students involved.”
While the search for a new president continues, a similar task force will reconsider campus safety during Spring Weekend in April. Michael Kirk, spokesman for UConn’s administration, said the task force will present new safety ideas to the university president this fall.
McHugh said he feels optimistic about campus safety this year.
“The campus is very, very safe and president Austin as the interim has done a magnificent job so far,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the campus police department. I think we have a very professional dedicated group.”
In the meantime, the UConn Police Department distributes safety information at orientations and open houses to help incoming students learn about the services available to them.
“We give the same advice we give every year,” said Lt. Hans Rhynhart. “Be aware of your surroundings, use the blue safety lights if you need to and take advantage of the crime alert text message system and register your phone.”