'What's in Your Wallet?'

The tragic deaths of Yale graduate student Annie Le in an off-campus research lab and the Virginia Tech rampage by student Seung-Hui Cho focus attention on access card security. The issue’s importance extends from student victims to roommates, families, faculties, and to the colleges and universities themselves, asserts a clinical psychologist.

In January, Raymond Clark III, charged with killing Le, pleaded not guilty to murder in a Connecticut court. Clark isn’t a Yale student, but has been an off-campus lab technician since 2004, police told CNN. Clark was described to police as a “control freak” with the lab and its mice as his fiefdom.

Since safety is paramount for a learning institution that utilizes an access card-operated system to control entry into campus buildings, these questions arise:
  • Who must maintain the cards and the access system?
  • What if cards are lost or damaged?
  • Employees or students come and go, locks don’t function or are bypassed by those who prop doors open… What then?
  • Do institutions have central control over their campus card systems?
The Nature of Campus Crime
University of South Florida Dept. of Criminology associate professor Max Bromley, Ed.D., wrote (for a Southern Criminal Justice Association conference) “Campus-Related Murders: A Content Analysis Review of News Articles.” He maintained: “Little is actually known or reported on campus murders.” As for motives, “anger and/or revenge appear” prevalent, and location often was an “on-campus residence hall” or a “non-classroom campus building.” The “vast majority” of victims were “students, faculty, or staff – equally divided” among men and women, Dr. Bromley added.

As for known offenders, he finds “male students were most often identified.”

In the “majority” of murders, victims and offenders had some relationship: domestic, intimate, and workplace-related; violence in the general community “applied to the campus cases.”

Extending this to survivors, Boston-based clinical psychologist Stanley Ducharme, Ph.D., argued: “It would be my opinion that people associated with a victim of violent crime would experience typical symptoms (of) post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a more complicated form of anxiety reaction.” Ducharme, affiliated with Boston University’s School of Medicine, added, “Individuals with PTSD could be expected to have recurring nightmares; feelings of anxiety and panic; recurrent recollections; difficulty sleeping; irritability; feelings of numbness; heightened emotional responses to stress; poor concentration; and avoidance of places, people, and things that remind them of the crime.”

Ducharme suggested that “families have the added burden of grief and loss” of a loved one. PTSD can “complicate the grieving process, often delaying it, or making it unbearable to face.” Without an adequate ability to grieve, “bereavement can turn into a major depression.”

Systems in Place
On the positive side, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill runs an access system “used by academic and administrative buildings, plus labs and parking gates,” explained Jim Clinton, director of card operations. With 800-plus readers, “we use an online system called Squadron Access Control developed by CBORD, in conjunction with the CS Gold product.” This provides an “access solution” for campus departments by “controlling who can get into a specific building.”

The system allows departments to “control their own doors,” Clinton stated. “This makes it easy to add or delete employees or students as they change status. Our departments really like this option, and it takes the One Card office out of the picture to manage access for everyone on campus.” Clinton emphasized, “We still maintain and have central control; we work with departments on scheduling the doors’ locking and unlocking times.”

Lost cards are replaced at the One Card office for $10. Once a card is reissued, the former card is inactivated and the holder can “use the new card for access.” Since departments manage those rights, as people come and go, their access rights are “modified. We have some doors with prop alarms, so notification goes out in those cases.”

Clinton cited the University of Virginia, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, and Vanderbilt University as doing a “really good job with access.”

At Washington, DC’s Catholic University of America (CUA) there’s the all-purpose Cardinal Card, issued by the Office of Business Systems and Support. CUA terms it a “multifunctional identification card” to provide “access to a variety” of services “without requiring students to carry multiple cards.” All registered students get a photo Cardinal Card, which yields library use, health services, and athletic facilities entry. Each student’s card is “programmed to permit security access” to his/her assigned residence hall and for the student-selected meal plan.

Also, personal funds (Cardinal Cash) may be deposited to simplify cash purchases on campus and at selected off-campus businesses. A lost or stolen card can be deactivated at the account management online service. New cards are obtained at the Dept. of Public Safety Traffic/ID Card office; CUA assesses a $30 replacement fee.

Resident students must have the card “reprogrammed for access” to their building by their residence hall office. If access to another campus building is needed, the student must contact the building administrator or dean's office.

Anthony Gibbs opted for CUA, and “for the most part” finds his card “extremely useful; it’s almost like a personal driver’s license for the University. You flash the card” to get a package; it “works for your dorm only.” As an architecture major, when his classes are done for the day, “I can go back to the building and scan my card outside of any door, so I can work on my project any time I wish.”

Scanning his card at night “wouldn’t work for other buildings, such as the engineering or nursing buildings.” The “one very big flaw” is “if you lose this card, then you lose everything. Once it goes missing, life becomes inconvenient.” His roommate lost his card a couple times, and “if someone finds it before you do, they’ve stolen your identity. Most of the people who scan or look at your card will take a quick glimpse at the very most.”

At Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University (DU), the DU Card is the “official,” school-controlled identification card for a student or employee, and “provides access” to:
  • buildings/resident halls,
  • recreational facilities,
  • dining/meal plan,
  • the Gumberg Library,
  • computer labs, and
  • return/resale of textbooks.
Students can get or replace a card at the DU card center at the Student Union. That center coordinates the Duquesne Dollars program, international student ID cards for those who study abroad, and vending refunds.

Making Sure the System Works
How do you help ensure access card security?

Nathan Zhuravsky, of Syska Hennessy Group, a New York-based building systems designer, cautions institutions that choosing a card access control solution that uses different systems at different facilities can “create complications. Even [at a] university, specific buildings, or even departments, may have their own systems, requiring different access cards.” This can “cause confusion when trying to track which cards access which facilities.”

He said the answer for institutional facility executives may be a one-card approach using smart cards, with a computer chip programmed to hold personal data about the cardholder and the access point/points the individual is allowed to enter.

Herb Drill studied journalism at the University of Minnesota and has a degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In Jacksonville, FL, he heads Able Me & Associates. His e-mail address is [email protected], or [email protected]