Open letter to Tech president

Take steps on crime, or lose my son

By Clark E. Blackwell

My son is in his third year at Georgia Tech. Until this week, I’ve been willing to turn a blind eye to, and to even place blame on, the students who were often victimized off-campus while returning from after-midnight carousing, or who had stupidly ventured into areas near campus that are commonly known to be unsafe.

During the past eight months, 11 on-campus crimes did not fit that description because those crimes occurred smack in the middle of the Tech campus. That many attacks in a span of eight months is unacceptable.

It is both significant and ironic to note the Jan. 5 armed robbery occurred inside an academic building that has, in recent years, hosted high school students (my son included) participating in regional Model U.N. meetings.

During my son’s senior year of high school, a significant majority of valedictorians and salutatorians from public high schools throughout Cherokee County chose to enroll at Tech. From direct personal experience, I know access to the Georgia HOPE scholarship was a major factor in most, if not all, those high-achieving students’ enrollment decisions.

Families in counties across our state made similar choices, and beyond the state line and U.S. borders, families with the financial means to do so have long chosen to seek a Tech education for their high-achieving sons and daughters because of the institute’s well-deserved reputation for superior return on investment. Historically, a degree from Tech has opened doors.

My son’s diligence, hard work, attention to detail, and strong academic credentials resulted in acceptance letters from several out-of-state engineering schools. Each university offered a generous scholarship that covered much of the out-of-state tuition. Among engineering schools, my family had long believed the institute ranked very high for return-on-investment and very low for student safety, especially when compared with universities with rural campuses. As noted earlier, in light of the HOPE scholarship, we ultimately based our enrollment decision on the perceived value of a Tech diploma.

The spike in on-campus crime is a jarring reminder that return on investment can neither quantify nor offset the ever-increasing risk that, on your watch, my son may fall victim to violent crime before graduation.

Your increasingly obvious failure to adequately protect our sons and daughters since 2009 not only reflects poorly on Tech, but on the entire state of Georgia. Particularly in light of the on-campus crimes, affluent, well-educated families in other nations are soon likely to share my sentiment that your failure to ensure the safety of Tech students increasingly overshadows the institute’s reputation for excellence in engineering education.

This spike in crime indicates you are unwilling to protect Tech students. The operative term is “unwilling” rather than “unable,” because the goal is achievable, and the institute’s operating budget is substantial.

You can afford to fix this problem. “See something, say something” looks good on paper and it may actually work on “Sesame Street,” but that happy-talk policy is eliciting nothing more than a jeer and a middle finger from the freeloading career criminals targeting Tech students and faculty on the increasingly dangerous streets named 4th, 5th, 8th, 10th, 14th, North, Techwood, Bobby Dodd, Cherry, Ferst, Atlantic, Spring, State, Hemphill and West Peachtree.

I would like to see immediate and robust upgrades to campus security this month — including, but not limited to, the increased, constant and campus-wide physical presence of uniformed law enforcement officers in more authoritative postures than astride a Segway, as well as the installation and use of security cameras capable of providing clear, sharp photos.

If you aren’t willing to get the job done, I cannot continue to risk my son’s personal safety just to save a few bucks on in-state tuition.

Clark E. Blackwell, a banker and Cherokee County native, lives in Canton.

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