Crime Will Destroy Georgia Tech’s Elite Educational Status

Last week a Georgia Tech student awoke in his dorm room to find a man holding a gun to his head and another rummaging through his belongings. Yet another in a long (and rapidly growing) list of crimes against students occurring on and around the Georgia Tech campus.

Georgia Tech is one of the nation’s elite engineering schools, because of its scholastic rigor and facilities (Tech is one of only two schools to have had its own nuclear reactor, for example). Consequently,  it has been a magnet for the best and brightest engineering students from across the country.

Last month I spoke with relatives from Indiana. They asked “What’s with the crime at Georgia Tech?” Two weeks later I talked to relatives from rural Kentucky. They too asked “What’s with the crime at Georgia Tech?”  When people halfway across the country are asking about Georgia Tech’s crime problem, you know it has reached the tipping point of damaging the school’s reputation nationally.

Georgia Tech can only maintain its elite status by continuing to attract the best engineering students from across the country. But, can it do that given the escalating crime problem? If your child was choosing between MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Georgia Tech, and Cal Tech (the top five engineering schools in the country) where would you advise them not to go? If you cared about your child’s safety, the answer is Georgia Tech.

The reason for Georgia Tech’s crime problem is twofold:

  1. Georgia Tech students are fat targets. They are required to not only own computers, but high-end computers. And, because they are techies by nature, they are likely to be carrying expensive electronic devices (smart phones, iPads, iPods, e-readers, etc…) In other words, if you rob a Georgia Tech student you are likely to come away some expensive electronic gear you can sell.
  2. Georgia Tech students are defenseless. Georgia Tech has an extremely restrictive weapons policy (http://www.housing.gatech.edu/policies/respol_weapons.cfm). Not simply limited to guns, it explicitly prohibits virtually any type of defensive weapon. Given the wording of the policy, even pepper spray would fall under the prohibition.

The state of Georgia is a right to carry state, and puts few restrictions on who may carry a concealed firearm. Consequently, you can never know for sure who is (and isn’t) carrying a concealed weapon. This presents criminals in downtown Atlanta with a choice: (1) attack someone off campus who may be carrying a gun; or (2) enter the Georgia Tech campus and attack someone your positive will be unarmed and defenseless. It’s a simple decision: attack the student.

As a native Georgian, I know it has long been a source of tremendous pride that our sleepy little southern state had a public university that was one of the elite institutions in the country. While Georgia is no longer a sleepy little southern state, the pride in Georgia Tech’s national status remains. That status in now in jeopardy.  Georgia Tech cannot maintain its elite educational status without continuing to attract the top engineering students from across the country, but it will not be able to continue to attract those elite engineering students unless the student crime situation is solved.

The reaction of both Georgia Tech’s administrators and the state’s Board of Regents to the campus crime problem has been right out of Bureaucracy-101: restate their current policies and hope the situation resolves itself. In other words, they have stuck their collective heads in the sand. It’s obvious they haven’t connected the dots between the crime problem and eventual inability of Georgia Tech to attract elite students, or understand how hard it is to restore a reputation once it is damaged.

Governor Deal has stayed hands off, allowing Tech’s administrators and the Board of Regents to handle the situation. It’s clear that neither is equipped to resolve the problem. The campus crime situation is becoming a national stain on the Tech’s (and the state’s) reputation. Should Georgia Tech slide down the list of  engineering schools (it is currently ranked #4 nationally by US News & World Report) it would be a huge embarrassment to the state’s citizens that have long bragged about Georgia Tech’s national reputation. It’s time for Governor Deal to get involved.

Unless, of course, Governor Deal is content that part of his legacy will be:  “the governor that let Georgia Tech’s elite educational status get away.”