Dear President Tripathi,
It’s your turn to talk about the Heights
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 22:02
We are tired of one-sided conversations and unanswered phone calls, of turned cheeks and of the ticking time bomb that is the University Heights.
So today, we want to make a deal: We are reserving Friday’s front page for you. You have the opportunity to say whatever you want about the problems in the Heights, how you feel UB should or should not handle it, respond to students’ concerns or write whatever comes into your head. By emailing your response to the address at the bottom of this editorial, you guarantee a spot to answer the criticisms that your school is facing without fear of censorship or spoiled words – a spot to instill faith in the student body.
However, if we don’t receive anything from you by 10 p.m. on Thursday, the front page will remain blank. Sometimes nothing speaks louder than silence. We are faced with short deadlines and quick responses day after day, so we realize this isn’t a lot of time. But we are tired of waiting.
This is The Spectrum’s second editorial of the school year regarding the University Heights district of Buffalo. In October, we made a call for action to UB, encouraging – nay, pleading – with the school to make a push to take care of the living conditions that UB’s off-campus residents are subjected to and that UB so willingly endorses as alternative, affordable housing.
In case you failed to notice (but we know you didn’t), Monday’s paper was dedicated to the area. Our eight-page issue was almost completely occupied by a comprehensive outline of the crime and conditions in the Heights. We had interviews with international students who had few other options besides their unsafe, untended homes. We had other residents – current and former – who felt strong enough about the matter to share their own experiences of break-ins and gunpoint robberies.
And not once have we heard back from you. Not one single word. We’ve seen you jump at the opportunity to answer questions about school-wide expansion and even gave a full interview to a Spectrum staff writer on state funding for the Center of Excellence for Materials Informatics earlier this month (and you responded quite quickly, at that). This is your school and these are your students and hearing your thoughts on the negative aspects of the former that hurt the latter has been an impossible mission. You and your staff want pats on the back when something good happens but pass the blame on negative press.
It’s becoming increasingly evident that we are being played, but we are not the victims of this game; the victims are all the students who are being misguided and misinformed by a school that is supposed to have their best interests at heart. It’s supposed to be a school that will protect them, yet Dennis Black, your vice president of University Life and Services, has said you’re “not in the protection business” and you’re “not guardian angels that can travel with 40,000 people wherever it is they are or wherever they go.”
Your students do not need guardian angels, but it does seem like at this point they need a miracle to actually get and hold your attention. Crime after crime and violation after violation, students are told just how little the school is willing to do to help Heights residents. Black told The Spectrum if a student feels unsafe where he or she lives, that person needs to move. To him, that choice is as simple as the choice of drinking alcohol or the time you pick to go out (yes, that is actually what he compared it to).
Meanwhile, somebody else is making the choice to break your windows or steal your money.
These are not isolated incidents or uncommon occurrences; this is what happens in the Heights – rather frequently, in fact, and increasingly so. Robbery numbers have gone down since 2008, but crime – including homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft – remains unchanged. Five hundred twenty-three crimes in the Heights in 2008, 523 crimes in the Heights in 2012. And enough students who live there feel unsafe and want something done about it.
As for increased police presence (which has been proven to deter crime) by the Buffalo Police Department, Black is all for it.
“I think that anything people can do to take away the opportunity for crime is good,” he told The Spectrum at the end of December. “And that’s lighting, that’s transportation, that’s people being smart and that’s enhanced police presence.”
But as for expanding University Police’s jurisdiction to help cover that? It’s a no-go. The excuse Black gave us against adding UPD patrol to the Heights? We’ll give you a hint: It’s green and keeps the university alive.
“Imagine what it would cost for University Police to patrol University Heights,” he said. “Who would pay that cost?”
Us probably, like everything else that goes into the university. Black says two things could happen: Cost of attendance would go up and/or other services would go down (“It’s not magic,” he said).
Is anybody actually going to object to an added service that protects a good percentage of the student body? Plus, the cost of attendance going up is hardly a threat when it is already going up steadily each year to pay for UB 2020, that lovely expansion plan that will increase the school’s presence in downtown Buffalo yet continues to ignore South Campus. As a city, Buffalo is relying on UB to pull it from depression, and UB 2020 is supposed to be the program that does so, but what about the facets that are getting ignored in the process?
It only makes sense to give University Police jurisdiction in the University Heights, and community members have no idea why it hasn’t been done yet, especially after other universities have taken that step. In September, Ohio State University and the City of Columbus teamed up to give campus police the right to patrol the inner city. In the first two months, violent crime dropped 5 percent from the past 10 years. According to OSU Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp, he just wasn’t comfortable having students in a situation where they were getting mugged off campus or held at gunpoint. Clearly UB’s administration is.