EDITORIAL: Balancing on a delicate line

The allegations made by former safety and security officer Tony Moreno are serious and troubling. When approached with the story by Moreno and his daughter, The Minaret began an investigation into their claims.

As the investigation progressed, more and more questions arose. We thought deeply on them and sought answers from those involved. Two of the most troubling questions remain.

The first question involves the unwillingness of UT security officials to openly and freely prove the absence of wrongdoing. Security has cameras placed all around campus but were not willing to show the officers at their posts on the days in question, or even show footage of them walking into the security office to check in before their shift. All we asked was to see visual proof that the officers were indeed going to work and not following the “phantom schedules.”

Assistant director of security Kevin Howell at first said he would show the footage, but then backed away from his offer and hid behind the cover of the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA). This Congressional act is designed to protect the privacy and integrity of student records and identities.

The Minaret asserts very strongly that showing an officer at his post in a deserted residence hall does not constitute a FERPA violation. Too many times in our investigations into student safety and security are we run aground by administration officials hiding behind FERPA.

We are highly disappointed that security officials could not provide us with the necessary information to prove Moreno wrong. We asked for card swipes, which are records left when a person uses their ID card to enter a building. Vice president of administrative services Rod Plowman declined to allow The Minaret to see card swipes for the officers in question.

We asked to see daily reports, which are logs filed by security officers during their shifts. We were denied, again by the blanket of FERPA. We asked to have all sensitive information redacted, with only the officer’s name along with the date and time in question. We were denied. We asked to see the official audits. We were denied.

Although we were not allowed to see the audits, Howell and Popovich referred us to then ask questions as the route guided us to that point.

Anthony Moreno brought serious allegations against the university. The rational and reasonable response from an innocent party would be to open their books to the public and let us see that nothing improper was done. Apparently, ration and reason are beyond the scope of the university’s capabilities.

Another extremely troubling question that arose from our investigation is why the security officers would use this phantom schedule, if it exists. Moreno called it a “fringe benefit,” but provided no more explanation.

Leaving the safety of the entire campus, including summer residents and younger camp visitors, in the hands of a severely undermanned security staff is ridiculously dangerous. Why would the supervisors approve and promote this program?

If the allegations are true, then security has left UT in a unsecured position. While Moreno provided physical and anecdotal evidence that the phantom schedule exists, the university expects us to simply take their word for it that nothing is wrong. This is a dangerous road to go down. No one should expect to take the words of an administration as final, especially when it fails to offer available evidence.

It should be very clear that The Minaret does not simply take anyone’s word at face value. When Moreno contacted us, we did not immediately write a story based on his story. We also expressed skepticism about his story because the word of a fired employee is often vengeful and malicious. We asked him to provide as much evidence as possible. He answered every question and sent dozens of documents to us to prove his case. We never took his word as final either.

When UT officials presented their case, they simply gave us their word. We gave them weeks to provide hard evidence that Moreno’s allegations were false or improper. Instead, they chose to hide behind cloudy laws.

Every UT student deserves and should demand the right to visit a safe and secure south Tampa campus. They should all ask their administrators why they cannot be shown proof that their campus is secure. If there is no wrongdoing to hide, there is nothing to hold back from the campus community.

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