Compliance vs. Leadership?


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Scott McGrath

I’ve been thinking a lot about the steps it takes to move from mere compliance with Clery Act, HEOA and related safety regulations, to a more “proactive” safety strategy on campus. Along the way, many questions get raised that take us from the “letter” of the law to the “spirit” of the law. For example, the regulations tell us what to communicate, but not always how information needs to be communicated.

Colleges and universities are by their very nature distributed organizations, so it takes a fair amount of cross-disciplinary coordination to bring together a cohesive public safety compliance program. One could argue the “reason” for regulating to begin with is to ensure that in such an environment, institutions do not overlook sharing information that impacts the lives of students, faculty and staff on campus. Regulations are trying to enforce the prioritization of certain safety behaviors on our campuses. What they require is that each institution mount a cross-disciplinary response.

Given the complexity of compliance for the institution, compliance puts pressure on the organization to ensure that it meets minimum requirements. Helpful documents such as the American Council on Education’s excellent President’s Guide to the Clery Act provide tools to ensure the that college administrations are aware of “top-down” requirements for the institution, and can appear fairly formidable. Regulations always cause a certain level of political debate and controversy for sure, but they do provide a level playing field for public transparency, however painful it may be for an institution to reveal statistics about crimes and safety issues.

All the more reason to be impressed when an institution goes above and beyond the requirements of mere compliance to demonstrate genuine innovative leadership. I’ve had the opportunity at Rave to work with many customers that clearly want to lead, and seem to demonstrate in every action a genuine commitment to public safety. It’s easier said than done when compliance itself represents a huge burden on the time and attention of your public safety team, emergency managers, and administrators. Commitment has to come with support from trustees, college president and senior administrators, as well as those charged with protecting our campuses.

The nature of safety planning is such that you can never be sure you’ve covered all the bases. The metrics are complex. Progress in particular is comparatively hard to measure, and separating “just talk” from real action can be slippery. And if a mistake is made, the consequences may be exceptionally painful to the institution and those doing its work.

No matter how much an institution prepares, reality remains unpredictable. The commitment is to constant improvement, I think. If something gets by our planning, let’s understand it, discuss it and make changes. In some ways, leadership is living with the uncomfortable truth that we can’t be ready for every possible event that might occur on our campuses; the commitment is to honest and open, inclusive and ongoing improvement and pro-activity. Easier said than done, indeed.

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