University of Pittsburgh

Continuing Campus Disruptions

To: The University Community

From: Mark A. Nordenberg

Date: April 6, 2012

Re: Continuing Campus Disruptions

Normally, this is a very special time of year. Winter weather has passed, flowers are in bloom, the end of the academic year is in sight, and people’s spirits are high. But this has been anything but a normal spring at Pitt.

Instead, in recent weeks, we have received what has seemed to be an unending succession of bomb threats. Some have been focused on a single facility, while others posed threats to multiple buildings. Those threats have been a disruption to campus life – affecting students, faculty and staff. They also are an understandable source of heightened anxiety, not only for those living and working on campus but also for their family members.

It is true – as a number of people have said, in comforting tones, to me – that this could have happened anywhere. But sadly, it is happening here at Pitt – on a campus that is widely recognized as safe by all comparative measures and that is known for its sense of community.

To underscore what has been a consistent message, in dealing with these threats, our highest priority has been the safety of the Pitt community. To advance that priority, we have made regular use of our emergency notification system. We have evacuated every threatened building, despite the inconvenience that has caused. We also have carefully searched every such building before permitting activities in it to resume and, to repeat a key point, we have detected no evidence of any explosives of any kind at any site.

Proceeding in this fashion, though, has placed heavy demands on police, both in the University and in the broader community. We are deeply grateful for the help that we have received from partner law enforcement agencies, both in preserving campus safety and in pressing forward with the investigation that ultimately will bring these criminal acts to an end.

Particularly because the precise pattern of these threats does not repeat past challenges faced by other universities, one key dimension of our partnerships with other agencies has been to seek their assessments of our security efforts and to let us know if there are other steps that we should be taking. Overwhelmingly, those responses have been supportive of our approach.

This does not mean, of course, that there are not those, on and off campus, who would argue for something different. At one end of that spectrum are those who feel that we are being too cautious, are creating our own disruptions to campus life through the approach we have chosen, and are consuming too many resources by continuing to evacuate and search every targeted building. Though there may be a certain logic to a less cautious approach, cutting back on our efforts, given the many uncertainties that continue to exist with respect to the circumstances we now face, has not seemed consistent with the priority that we assign to safety.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who feel that we should go further and close down this campus, either for a specified time or even indefinitely. That alternative also had been considered but has not been viewed as the most appropriate choice. Even in the face of these threats – which, as I already have noted, have been disruptive – most of our important work has continued. And with respect to this alternative, we have tried to enable students who feel the need to be more cautious to make that choice. Any student who feels that leaving campus before the end of the academic term is the best alternative can make that decision, and we will do our best to facilitate the completion of his or her remaining academic responsibilities.

Among our most important partners in these ongoing efforts are David Hickton, the chief federal law enforcement officer in this region in his position as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Hickton and I are in direct and regular contact. Even more important is the fact that members of the University of Pittsburgh Police Department and the FBI are working closely on this matter, just as they have worked together on other matters over the course of many years. In fact, both the Pitt Police and the FBI are members of this region’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which has been a source of advice and support in this case.

Earlier today, U.S. Attorney Hickton issued a statement regarding the challenges that we now face and our shared efforts to deal with them. That statement has been posted in its entirety on the University’s homepage. Among its principal messages are these:

  • that the “safety of the University of Pittsburgh community is a top priority”;
  • that the bomb threats “are being vigorously, aggressively and thoroughly investigated by every possible means”;
  • that the “resilience of the University community” is to be commended; and
  • that “the University of Pittsburgh is exercising appropriate regard for safety . . . while refusing to allow such threats to paralyze the entire University community.”

Obviously, we all wish that these threats, and the challenges that they present, had never been visited upon us. However, despite those earnest wishes, the challenges did come, and we now are doing our very best to deal effectively with them. And even while we are dealing with the direct challenges presented by the threats, including everything that is involved in our security and investigatory efforts, we also are doing our best to reach out to the University community and its many constituent groups as regularly as is appropriate and possible.

We appreciate the cooperation and support that have come from throughout the entire University community and from our many friends, do believe that progress is being made in the ongoing investigation and look forward to the time, hopefully in the near-term, when we all can put this particular set of challenges behind us.