Hopkins seeks to hire new Vice President for Security

By JAKE LEFKOVITZ and DEREK MORITZ | September 12, 2019

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In July, Hopkins announced that a search committee would be formed to hire a new Vice President (VP) for Security. In addition to overseeing the entire 1,200 personnel security force for Hopkins, the future administrator will be leading and developing the planned private police force.

The position became vacant following the departure of former VP for Security Melissa Hyatt, who became Baltimore County’s first female police chief in June. Connor Scott, who formerly served as chief of staff for security, is currently the acting VP.

Although made up mainly of administrators and trustees, the committee also includes community activists, students, a professor and a resident at Hopkins Hospital. 

Kendall Free, an undergraduate student and president of the Black Student Union, directly sits on the committee. She stated that Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka recommended her for the position.

Free believes that getting diverse input from students and community members is key to choosing a new VP.

“Everyone has a very different background in terms of what part of the University or community that they’re representing,” she said. “What I’m trying to do is represent and bring up concerns that I know students have had about who would be taking this position.”

Assistant Vice President Karen Lancaster of External Relations for the Office of Communications wrote in a statement to The News-Letter that the next VP will hold a wide portfolio with security responsibilities at properties up and down the East Coast and even abroad. 

“The Vice President for Security (VP) is responsible for managing and driving our entire global security and public safety operation,“ she wrote. “The selected candidate will also lead the effort to build, establish, and implement the Johns Hopkins Police Department, and will oversee its day-to-day operations... While extremely important, the Johns Hopkins Police Department will be only a fraction of the VP’s full security and public safety portfolio.”

Lancaster said that implementing the police force will be a multi-year processes, which will include recruiting a chief officer to lead the organization and drafting a memorandum of understanding with the Baltimore Police Department.  

Although made up mainly of administrators and trustees, the committee also includes community activists, students, a professor and a resident at Hopkins Hospital. Lancaster explained how the committee members were selected by the co-chairs, senior Vice Presidents Daniel Ennis and Robert Kasdin. 

“The committee members were selected with great care... with guidance from a range of internal and external parties, all of whom appreciate the importance of the representation of student, employee, faculty and community voices in this search process,“ she wrote.  

Hopkins will also be collecting public comments throughout the selection process. A  feedback form is available on the University’s public safety initiative website.

Ian Matthew-Clayton, the executive director for talent acquisition within human resources, said that his role on the committee was to help the co-chairs through the decision process.

“My role is to provide guidance and management and work very closely with the chairs of the search [committee] to ensure that we hire the right candidate for that role,” Matthew-Clayton said. “Strong leadership skills are very critical for [that] role.”

Matthew-Clayton also added that it is important that the new VP is well-versed in 21st Century Policing, a set of recommendations created by the Obama administration in response to the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, in Ferguson, Mo.

Lancaster also emphasized that the ideal candidate would strike a balance between community security and community wellness.

“The VP will be an integral part of JHU’s commitment to address the root causes of crime, and will leverage the multitude of resources throughout JHU and the Johns Hopkins Health System,” she wrote. “The VP will form critical partnerships with student and community groups and their leaders to promote a safe, healthy environment on and around our campuses.”

Matthew-Clayton stressed that the search committee should also value a diversity of community voices.

“We thought very acutely about ensuring that we had representation,” he said. “We selected community members that live and work in the neighboring communities around Hopkins and individuals that are well-respected in their community.”

Emerald Rivers, a member of the search committee and graduate student in the School of Nursing, agreed with Matthew-Clayton that diverse representation is important. As much as the new VP will be responsible for students, they will be equally responsible for the safety of faculty, staff and the many visitors that come to the University and Hospital. 

As both a nurse and a student, Rivers said that she values the safety of all of these groups.

Some students, such as sophomore Gracyn Sollmann, are still worried about lack of representation on the committee.

“A lot of the students have shared the opinion that they worry about student safety, especially when it comes to people of color. Having more students on the committee would make me feel better personally,” Sollmann said.

Senior Ellie Damstra elaborated on this sentiment.

“Because there’s only two students on the search committee for a new VP, the interest of the general student body is not being adequately represented,” Damstra said. 

Free stressed the importance of the public feedback form and urges those with thoughts on the selection process to utilize the form.

“I think that a lot of students don’t think that what they’re going to say will impact anything, which is a cyclic issue, but I think it starts with trying,” Free said. 

Rivers echoed this sentiment, saying that the committee is reviewing the electronically-submitted feedback and taking account of it. 

Rivers also believes it is important to find a candidate who understands the relationship between Hopkins and Baltimore and can be counted on to always be forthright with the community. 

Free extended this remark, stating that what she prizes in a candidate is a commitment to accessibility and receptivity.

“The most common thing that students want is someone who will continue to have a conversation and won’t shut down,” Free said. “Something that I’ve kept in mind is, who’s going to continue to have their door open to us and be receptive?’”

Other students, such as sophomore Jeremy Hoffner, believe that regardless of who the new VP is and how they are selected, the most important thing will ultimately be their ability to keep Hopkins students and employees safe.

“My first hope is that the person they hire[‘s] … intentions are to keep the students of Johns Hopkins safe and secure,” he said. 

Some groups on campus hold a more negative view toward the actions of the administration in filling this position, including the JHU Sit-In, which has expressed deep concern over the administration’s approach in filling the position.

In an email to The News-Letter, the JHU Sit-In expressed dismay at the committee’s low ratio of students and community members to administrators. 

“JHU administrators seem uninterested in either transparency or the knowledge offered by those directly affected by the private police or decisions made by the VP of security,” they wrote. “Neighbors facing forced displacement and the dangers of police brutality must be included as equal partners in decision-making.”

The sit-in also questioned the need for the position given other administrative security personnel, but nevertheless hopes the new VP addresses the issues of the sit-in and their supporters moving forward.

“We would also like to see a reduction in senior administrative bloat at JHU,” they wrote. “However, we hope the new VP of security takes our grievances, and those of the neighboring communities, seriously when formulating a new public safety plan.”

Although the committee expects to select a candidate in the next few months, Matthew-Clayton stressed that the process is not being rushed and there is no strict deadline for selection.

One community member on the committee declined to comment. The other two could not be reached for comment.

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