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EDITORIAL: Mercer County Community College undermines student success


Students at Mercer should not have to worry about their safety, should not have to think twice about providing personal information in order to enroll in classes. They should have confidence in the policies enacted by their institution, should trust their administration to follow the law. But it has become evident that we cannot rely on our college to provide us with such peace of mind.

The pages of this issue of The VOICE reveal a disturbing trend: Mercer’s administration is so diabolically mismanaged, disorganized and incompetent that it is undermining student confidence –and thus success– at every turn. What exactly is undermining student confidence? Among other things:

  • Finding out our personal data isn’t secure.
  • Learning of the college’s minimal compliance the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Discovering that the college has positively flouted the law with its erroneous crime reports.

The people who are responsible for ensuring student safety go out of their way to make themselves unavailable for comment when our staff members come calling. The key administrators say “no comment” or insist that we have to talk to someone else.

Bryon Marshall, Director of College Safety, is never able to be reached for a comment. VOICE staffers have tried to reach him for comment on numerous articles and he hasn’t commented on one in over a year. Although he is the one with the law degree from Rutgers, he’d rather throw his security chief under the bus than be the one to answer questions about the college’s faulty crime reports.

Jose Fernandez, Executive Director for Compliance and Human Resources told us he wasn’t the one to ask about compliance with the Clery Act. What exactly does “Director of Compliance” mean?

While the college clearly cares nothing for actual matters of safety, much effort has put into measures to make the school appear safe and regulated.

Perhaps the most insulting method employed to demonstrate false security is the posters reminding us that “stealing is a crime” and littering is bad. But the most duplicitous way they cover the actual lack of safety is through the college’s visible ID tag policy which makes it mandatory for every student to wear their college issued ID card, with their name and student number clearly visible, at all times while on campus.

In the years since the policy was enacted The VOICE has run numerous articles examining every aspect of it.

We have explained that wearing your name visibly can attract unwanted attention from creepers who can look you up on Facebook.

We have pointed out that the only places where visible ID tags are required are secure facilities like prisons and military bases.

We have wryly noted that the IDs do not contain Kevlar and will not protect us in the event of a first person shooter incident on campus.

We have explained that in places where there have been shooters on campus, all of the shooters have had ID tags and wearing them visibly wouldn’t have protected anyone.

We have suggested that if we could load the cards with money for the cafeteria it would be more worth our while to carry them, but they still wouldn’t need to be kept visible.

We have pointed out that security can’t possibly check 9,000+ students’ ID tags, and that creating such policies burdens security officers unnecessarily and ensures that enforcement is arbitrary at best.

Recently the college has run a graphic on its home page with a reminder about the ID policy with a picture an the phrase “ID’s PLEASE!” No one seems to have noticed or cared that this smacks of the infamous anti-immigration law of Arizona known as “Papers Please” which –not unlike Mercer’s policy– enables law enforcement to stop people and demand proof of citizenship. The similarities are appalling and uncanny.

We have researched and researched and researched to find out that no other public college in the United States has a visible ID policy.

The college has always maintained that the tags make us safer, but no administrator has ever been able to explain how this is so.

We believe, however, that the policy was originally enacted to have a convenient excuse for kicking loud and unruly students out of the student center. Just being loud is probably not enough to send you off campus, but not having your ID tag is under the terms of the policy.

The specifics of the visible ID policy can be found in the student handbook, which is only available on Mercer’s website. The 2012-2013 handbook is not yet available in print to students. There has been no discernible effort on the part of the administration to increase public knowledge of the rules and policies outlined in the new handbook. In fact, last semester Jose Fernandez told us the fine for violating the policy and his number didn’t match the handbook. When we pointed this out he would not clarify which number was correct.

All this paints a rather frightening portrait of a Kafkaesque institution where the only party privy to the exact wording of the various rules and policies is the one tasked with enforcing them.

The ID tags are a cover. They are a way of suggesting safety in a place where there isn’t any. They are a degrading measure enacted by an administration that is afraid of students and indifferent to their needs.

What do students actually need? We need to be confident that our administration is doing its job properly. Further, we need to be shown respect and given a better chance to succeed.

The college could demonstrate a determination to stand behind student success by doing away with the visible ID policy and instead devoting itself to:

  • Providing a full health center with a nurse and more than one school psychologist,
  • Creating a less byzantine advising process,
  • Improving parking,
  • Providing greater transparency and information about school policies,
  • Considering the enforceability and practicality of new policies.

That would be a good start.


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