News 2013: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Releases Task Force Report in Response to Boston Marathon Tragedy

News 2013: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Releases Task Force Report in Response to Boston Marathon Tragedy
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Releases Task Force Report in Response to Boston Marathon Tragedy

Independent task force report applauds UMass Dartmouth for swift and skillful management, highlights key improvements made since April 19, and recommends additional actions.

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Chancellor Divina Grossman today released the report from the University's independent task force on the university's response to the Boston Marathon bombing. 

The three-member task force, formed on May 20, 2013, was chaired by Montana State University President Dr. Waded Cruzado and included University of Connecticut President Dr. Susan Herbst and James Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C. The task force was charged with conducting a wide-ranging review covering: 

-- Emergency planning related to public safety and business continuity. 

-- Academic and financial policies and procedures related to maintaining "student in good standing" status. 

-- Policies and procedures related to international student immigration. 

The report praised the university's overall response to the emergency, including the evacuation of the campus once it was learned that a bombing suspect was a UMass Dartmouth student. The report also notes numerous actions the university has taken over the past four months to improve policies and procedures and makes several recommendations for additional improvements. 

"On behalf of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, I want to convey my sincere appreciation for the Task Force's thoughtful and careful analysis. We entered this process confident in our response to an unforeseen and unprecedented emergency," Chancellor Grossman said. "We also recognize our obligation to learn from this experience and share our lessons with others. While the effectiveness of our actions has been widely acknowledged since April 19, we look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the task force and implementing them to the best of our ability." 

"I want to commend Chancellor Grossman for her decision to seek an independent review of the issues emanating from the Marathon tragedy," University of Massachusetts President Robert L. Caret said. "From the moment this shocking story began to unfold, Chancellor Grossman has assigned the highest priority to transparency and accountability and this report illustrates a laudable willingness to engage in a comprehensive review process." 

University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees Chairman Henry Thomas added: "The students, faculty, and staff of UMass Dartmouth, along with Chancellor Grossman, deserve our appreciation and respect for managing a very difficult situation with great competence and grace. In their immediate response to the emergency, their desire to get back to learning, and their actions to assist the victims of the marathon tragedy, they have set a positive example for all of us." 

The report concluded: 

The events that befell the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth on Friday, April 19, 2013 could have happened to any university in the nation or in the world. Fortunately, UMass Dartmouth handled a chaotic and critical event in an exemplary manner and, in doing so, has provided the higher education community with some remarkable lessons. 

It is obvious that the campus is fortunate to have competent and experienced individuals who assessed the situation quickly and moved forward in a deliberate manner characterized by the use of an abundance of caution. It should be noted: at the end of such an unsettling experience, the campus community smoothly returned to its daily operations. The Task Force believes that the state of Massachusetts and the nation should feel satisfied and proud about the way this campus managed what was truly a challenge of monumental proportions. 

The Task Force also noted in its conclusion: 

The Task Force did not find any indication that UMass Dartmouth could have foreseen the alleged actions of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, nor did the Task Force find any indication that students at UMass Dartmouth were in danger prior to, or after, the bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. 

"We applaud the UMass Dartmouth community for its handling of a complex and confusing situation and for its willingness to fully engage in self-examination," Dr. Cruzado said. "After holding dozens of individual interviews with UMass officials and external law enforcement professionals and reviewing approximately 1,400 documents, we hope this report will serve as guidance for UMass and universities across the country in managing public safety, academic, financial and foreign student policies." 

"The University's successful full-campus evacuation demonstrated exemplary leadership and collegiality among campus members and community partners," said James Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C. "Because of UMass Dartmouth's strong relationship with local law enforcement and other community partners, the response was calm, orderly, and effective." 

Among several recommendations and observations the Task Force made related to emergency planning, "student in good standing" policy and procedures, and international student issues, are  the following: 

-- Establish formal mutual aid agreements with the Town of Dartmouth and surrounding communities, and seek legislation providing UMass Police jurisdiction off-campus. (Similar legislation has allowed UMass Amherst to have such jurisdiction.) 
-- Assess the structure and staffing levels of the Department of Public Safety, including the hiring of a full-time emergency management specialist. 
-- Relocate the Department of Public Safety, which is currently co-located with the campus power plant. (The University has included a new public safety/visitor center in its capital plan.) 
-- Upgrade campus surveillance systems. 
-- Improve communication regarding academic standards and financial responsibilities. 
-- Enhance staff in the international student office to take full advantage of the new software tools. 

Among numerous actions that the University has taken over the last four months, the report notes the following: 

-- Enhanced emergency communications, including training all officers to transmit an instant emergency message. 
-- New training exercises and evacuation drills. 
-- Study of  the feasibility of adding a second exit to the campus to improve evacuations. 
-- Implementation of stricter academic sanctions to ensure timely dismissal of students with poor academic records. 
-- Tightened policies regarding unpaid student bills. Students with a $500 balance will no longer be allowed to register for courses without authorization of the Bursar or Director of the Enrollment Center.