Hopkins Suggests Security Rules

Report Released A Year After Student Was Fatally Shot

April 23, 1997|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

A year after the fatal campus shooting of a sophomore student at the Johns Hopkins University, allegedly by an estranged friend, last April, an internal Hopkins report released yesterday calls for measures designed to identify and handle people who may pose a threat of violence to others.

The report urged university officials to warn students quickly when they are acting inappropriately, to inform campus police promptly of such behavior, and to train faculty and staff to recognize and respond to obsessive behavior.

While the report did not directly address the slaying of Rex T. Chao, in which senior Robert J. Harwood Jr. has been charged, many of the new policies appeared to respond to the events leading to it.

The report was written by a committee that included 11 administrators, two faculty members and two students. William R. Brody, president of the university, adopted the report's recommendations, which include calls for Hopkins to:

Move to prohibit persistent, unwanted contact and threats of harm.

Train faculty and staff on issues of harassment and obsessive behavior.

Issue letters ordering Hopkins students to desist from inappropriate behavior.

Involve the parents of students in trying to defuse tensions between them.

Encourage the involvement of campus police in assessing situations that could turn violent.

Toughen and clarify its campuswide ban on guns.

Create assessment teams to avert "failures of foresight."

Chao, 19, and Harwood, 23, had been close friends in 1995, when the elder student encouraged the younger man's rise in the Hopkins College Republicans. But Chao tried to distance himself as he became romantically involved with a female student and Harwood bitterly resisted that change. The tension, often punctuated by sober declarations of friendship and respect, was cataloged in an electronic mail correspondence obtained by The Sun a year ago.

Phone calls

Harwood left the campus in January 1996 after completing the credits he needed to graduate, but his efforts to maintain contact with Chao became more frantic -- including as many as 20 telephone calls a day. From February through April 1996, Chao and his girlfriend, Suzanne Hubbard, met repeatedly with Susan K. Boswell, dean of undergraduate students, to register their apprehension over Harwood's actions, and noted that he owned a gun.

Boswell told Harwood to inform her whenever he came to campus. He did so in early April, saying he wanted to attend a meeting of the College Republicans where Chao was to be elected club president. Chao was fatally shot when Harwood pulled a gun from a duffel bag after Chao rebuffed his greeting after the meeting April 10, police said.

Harwood's trial on a first-degree murder charge has been postponed several times; he faces a July trial date. The release of the report, completed March 27, was delayed by the university so that it did not coincide with the killing's first anniversary.

"Despite the violence in the country at large, and in the Baltimore community in particular, the Hopkins campus has been relatively safe," stated the report, which reviewed statistics and policies on security issues at more than a dozen universities. "It is our conclusion that the University is simply not immune to the psychopathologies that unfortunately affect some people in our society."

Hopkins officials maintain that the report offers nothing new that contradicts the way the university, and particularly Boswell, handled Chao's concerns. Given the knowledge Hopkins administrators had, university general counsel Estelle Fishbein said, "We did what we could."

Linda Hubbard, the mother of Suzanne Hubbard, praised the university for taking a comprehensive look at campus security. Yet, she said she still believed that the university could have acted more strenuously to protect Chao.

"One could only hope that if more action had been taken, Rex Chao would be alive today," Mrs. Hubbard said yesterday.

Safety issues

Dorothy Siegel, director of the Campus Violence Prevention Center at Towson State University, served as a consultant on the report. She said Hopkins would have been better able to fend off a student obsessed with another if the new policies had been in place and completely followed.

But she also said few people think adequately about issues of safety until a jarring episode occurs.

"You probably could not have gotten things like this done without an incident," Siegel said. "It's a little bit like leaving your door unlocked in what seems like a safe neighborhood. You don't lock your door until someone breaks into the neighbor's house next door."

Said Paula Burger, a committee member who is Hopkins' vice provost for academic programs: "Our overall objective was to take any steps we thought were humanly possible to create the safest possible environment for our faculty, staff and students. We wanted to assure ourselves that there were not things within our powers to change that were left unaddressed."

Pub Date: 4/23/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.