UMass to help curb impact of students' off-campus behavior
GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Amherst Town Manager John Musante says he is encouraged by the response of the Unuiversity of Massachusetts in agreeing to pay for two additional town ambulances, provide more joint police patrols and create a new mobile police team to prevent large-scale disturbances off campus this spring. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — University of Massachusetts officials have agreed to pay for two additional town ambulances, provide more joint police patrols and offer a new mobile police team to prevent large-scale disturbances off campus this spring.
They made the announcement Thursday, just days after Amherst Town Manager John Musante demanded more help from UMass in dealing with student disturbances. The university provided all of the measures Musante called for — at a cost of at least $52,000 —except for an extension of University Health Services hours.
“I’m very encouraged by it,” Musante said. “This is a positive, constructive action to fundamentally address a public safety challenge for the entire community.”
His call for action came after a riot involving about 2,000 college-age people at Townehouse Apartments March 9 where underage people were consuming alcohol, bottles and cans were thrown at emergency crews and six UMass students were arrested.
Amherst Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe praised UMass for its offer.
“We’ve been hearing a lot of calls from the community for the university to take responsibility for the excesses and impacts of their students,” O’Keeffe said. “Public safety is paramount. This is hugely appreciated.”
John Kennedy, vice chancellor for university relations, said in a statement that devoting resources is part of an ongoing dialogue with Amherst officials.
“The university is committed to working with the town to ensure that the safety and civility of our shared community is protected,” he said.
Musante said the assistance from the university will make a difference.
”I applaud the responsiveness of UMass officials in providing concrete support to address this critical immediate need, and I appreciate their commitment to working with the town to find new solutions to ongoing challenges, for this spring and for the long term,” Musante said.
The university will pay the town about $40,000 to increase the number of ambulances in service from three to five on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays beginning March 28. Musante said that amount should be sufficient to staff these ambulances for extended hours each weekend night. He had originally estimated $20,000 would be needed.
UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said the additional ambulances will address concerns that residents are vulnerable when intoxicated students are transported from campus to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.
Starting in April, UMass and Amherst police will conduct joint patrols on Friday and Saturday nights in Amherst neighborhoods. These joint patrols, at a cost of $6,000 to the university, will take place primarily in the Fearing and Phillips streets neighborhoods and North Amherst.
Blaguszewski said UMass Police Chief John Horvath has created a new mobile field force that will be deployed during selected weekends in April, with up to 10 officers in a police van assigned to anticipate gatherings and break up parties before they become too large or troublesome. The university is spending another $6,000 on this.
Blaguszewksi said both regulatory and resource issues are preventing the university from extending the hours at University Health Services. He said the health center was given a special exemption to stay open during the February blizzard and would need to get similar exemptions to add hours.
“By staffing the ambulances up, that addresses the immediate need and concept we all have of making sure there are enough ambulances to serve the entire community,” he said.
Musante said there is a consensus that the health center should have longer hours, but logistical and planning work among UMass, Cooley Dickinson Hospital and state officials will be required.
Though it’s paying for two additional ambulances, the university already provides annual financial support for ambulance calls through a Strategic Partnership Agreement with the town, which in fiscal 2012 paid Amherst $363,718.
Some of the ideas for the university’s latest contributions came out of the university’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Town-Gown Relations, led by Nancy Buffone, executive director for external relations and university events, Blaguszewksi said. That group has helped to develop short- and long-term ways to address student behavior and quality-of-life issues, he said.
One of the ideas being discussed is expanding or building a new Student Union, Blaguszewski said.
O’Keeffe said she welcomes continuing efforts.
“This is a culmination of a lot of discussions as well as a response to the immediate problems we just faced and the challenges we anticipate facing for the spring weekends,” she said.
Long-term solutions depend on confronting underlying issues that cause the student behavior problems, Kennedy said.
“We’re working hard to educate our students to be good citizens and we will continue to explore innovative approaches to this difficult problem.”