Students meet with Reinharz, submit anti-arming petition
A group of 23 students voiced concerns about University President Jehuda Reinharz's decision to arm campus police at his office hours last Thursday afternoon, protesting the decision itself and the manner in which it was made. The initiative was taken by a new campus organization: Students Opposed to the Decision to Arm. The students brought Reinharz a petition signed by 830 undergraduates, 16 staff and 20 faculty members.
A clear policy has not been created yet. In an e-mail to the Justice, Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan wrote, "The University will be forming a Firearms policy group to assist me as new policies are drafted."
Reinharz chose to arm the officers last month after a firearms advistory committee of students, staff and faculty, which met over the summer, made that recommendation. SODA founder Ben Serby '10 said, however, that Reinharz should have consulted many more students and faculty members before making his decision.
"The burden of proof is on you, and any decision pro or con arming has to be thought out and discussed in the larger community; it just has to," Serby said to the president.
Reinharz disagreed, explaining that any decision involving the safety of students is an administrative decision that he has the authority to make unilaterally.
"I could have come to this decision without a committee," he responded. "But I decided to have a committee, and it did not make sense to me to waste a single moment once I had their recommendation, which was a unanimous one."
Members of SODA are also upset that just two students, Student Union Treasurer Choon Woo Ha '08 and Union Vice President Alex Braver '09, served on the firearms committee.
"His idea that this was a representational panel is ridiculous," Sahar Massachi '11, another SODA member, said in an interview following Reinharz's officer hours. "That's just like taking two men off the street, asking them a question and extrapolating that for the whole population. That would fail you in the most basic fourth grade statistics class."
Massachi also expressed his opinion to Reinharz. "I feel that your argument is essentially an elitist and undemocratic one," he said during the office hours. "The reason we have a Student Union and a faculty Senate is so that you can take these sorts of questions and ask them."
Reinharz emphasized repeatedly that he decided to approve arming the officers to ensure the safety of students on campus.
"If I have the opportunity to make a slight difference in saving somebody's life, this is not an issue on which I am willing to compromise," Reinharz said multiple times during the meeting. "I wish you could say that we don't need guns . but to say that would be utterly irresponsible."
Serby, on the other hand, said that Reinharz went too far in arming the officers and that he made that decision out of fear.
"It seems like [this decision] is succumbing to fear, fear of the worst possible case scenario," he said.
Serby didn't want to focus primarily on the arming decision itself, though.
"We're not here because of the merits and dis-merits of arming," Serby said. "We're here because of the dialogue, or lack thereof." He added that the discussion should be reopened for student input.
The students at Reinharz's office hours said they felt that many Brandeis students were not only unaware of the components of the training Brandeis police officers will have to undergo, but also that many students were unaware of the decision itself.
Reinharz, however, did commit to better informing the Brandeis community about the consequences and the process of arming campus police.
"You can take this as a commitment from me that at some point this semester or the beginning of next semester, we should have a session that's open to anyone on campus in which the police or the chief of the police explain what the process is going to be, answer all those questions of how exactly the review takes place [and] what kind of testing will be done," Reinharz said.
Although they didn't fulfill their goal of reopening the discussion, SODA members expressed optimism after the meeting.
"I think [Reinharz] finally realized that he needs to do a better job communicating," Justin Bakal-Balik '10 said.
Serby said he was satisfied with how the meeting went despite the fact that Reinharz didn't meet the students' demands.
"We weren't really expecting that, so there's really no disappointment here," he said. "We have a sense of renewed commitment to continue with the next steps that need to be taken. This is not the end of the line.