ISS’ rationale for more emergency phones not sufficient or justified

As long as adequate research has been conducted to support your initiative, throwing money around isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, we have to draw a line when Illinois Student Senate addresses the issue of using student fees without much, if any, effort to justify such action. Such is the case with ISS’ proposal to spend students’ money to expand and update the campus security phone network.

As reported in The Daily Illini last week, ISS is concerned with the safety of students and the observably obsolete nature of the emergency phone system. We agree with ISS that there may be issues with the phone system, but it needs to offer more than blunt assessments to make its case. When is the last time you even used an emergency phone?

In this case, before spending students’ money, first the ISS needs to show us why it cannot lobby a relevant department, such as the Division of Public Safety, for such dire repairs. Then, it needs to sell us on fixing these phones.

The campus emergency phone network consists of phones in all campus buildings, parking structures and many bus shelters. There are also a significant amount located in outdoor locations around campus. The intent is that someone in an emergency situation could use one of the phones to seek help. The effectiveness of these phones is anyone’s guess. Arguably, many have been preempted by the fact that most people on campus have cell phones. Furthermore, we are not aware of any programs by the University familiarizing students with the phones’ locations, uses or purposes.

Now, we concede that ISS’ concerns may be completely valid, but if so, it needs to convey why this matter falls in their purview. Campus safety is generally a matter handled by the Division of Public Safety and efforts by the several police departments that cover portions of campus. Is the University Police Department’s security camera plan not sufficient? If ISS is so concerned with the condition of phones, why not throw its weight behind an effort to lobby the Division of Public Safety to fix the phones?

Even if ISS was to reach a point at which it alone would be responsible for any action taken, the senate needs to justify its actions. We are particularly troubled by the causal assertion made by ISS about the use of emergency phones in relation to the dip in crime on campus from 2009-11. First, the phones’ existence coinciding with a dip in crime does not mean they are related. Using the same logic, the mere existence of squirrels on campus coinciding with the dip in temperatures on campus this summer clearly means the squirrels caused the cooldown.

Second, if ISS wants to demonstrate why we need these phones, it needs to provide statistics on the phones’ uses and what, if any, effect they actually have on crime. Just the aesthetic of emergency phones on campus may make people feel better, but they are pretty mediocre security blankets and an overall waste of money if they do no more than provide peace of mind. For all we know, the reduction in crime could just be due to better coordination among the three police departments on and around campus. It could be a reflection of the nationwide drop in crime over the past decades, the true source of which is anyone’s guess.

Ultimately, we just don’t know. As such, if ISS wants to spend our money on new and improved phones, we need to know why it will enhance our safety and rationalize the cost before it considers taking action.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Illinois Student Senate proposed using its student fee allowance to fund emergency phones. The article should have stated that Illinois Student Senate addressed the issue of student fees funding emergency phones. The Daily Illini regrets the error.