The events of September 11 caught the entire nation off guard. Where were you when the attacks began?
I was driving to Fairfield with Steve Parrott, director of University Relations. We were meeting with 200 teachers in the Fairfield School District on the important subjects they can teach students to prepare them for college. Three minutes before we arrived, the first plane hit the World Trade towers. We went in and asked the teachers if they would like to cancel in order to prepare their students for the news, but they wanted to talk to meof course, at that time we didnt know what really had happened. We did cut the discussion short, though. When we got back to the car, it was more horrible than anyone could imagine, so we rushed back to campus and went into immediate meetings on what we could do. The first concern was our students, both United States and international students, to make sure they would be safe. The Department of Public Safety joined us for meetings.
We sent an e-mail to everyone on campusbut it takes five hours to send the e-mails, so some arrived late. It expressed our horror at what had happened and said that classes would continue at the option of the professors, but they might want to make time for discussion of the events. We also lowered the flag on Old Capitol to half staff.
That night I had a regularly scheduled Fireside Chat for students in Mayflower Hall, and it was a standing-room-only crowd. The next day, students lined up to give blood in a drive they initiated, and theyre still coming to give blood.
The remembrance service on Friday was very helpful and the Association of Campus Ministers did a terrific job of planning it. I think the candlelight vigil on the Pentacrest also helped the campus community. I saw fraternity and sorority groups doing fund-raisers for the Red Cross on Saturday, which was wonderful.
This was a highly emotional time. What did the University do to address the needs of students and instructors in understanding this tragedy?
We set up centers in the Iowa Memorial Union with trained counselors and also told students to contact counselors through the University Counseling Service. We told professors that it would be an individual decision, as it always is, about whether to hold class that day, but many did because students wanted to talk and needed a safe place to go. The Center for Teaching distributed some information to instructors Tuesday on how to handle the situation.
Many Americans are confused as to why the U.S. was the target of this aggressive act. What questions have students been asking?
They have told me they want to know more about the Middle East, to see if they can understand what precipitated the attacks. Theyre asking why people in the Middle East hate us. I think the important thing is to make opportunities for students to really talk about whats going on.
We know you were concerned for UI students studying abroad. How were you able to reach out and help them?
We put instructions on the Internet, telling them first to contact their families to assure them they were all right. We urged them to travel in pairs, avoid hitchhiking, notify their local contact of their intended schedules, and to avoid problem areas and areas frequented by large numbers of Americans. We suggested that they have phone cards available and know how to contact the police, and asked them to register themselves with the U.S. embassy in their country.
Now we have the developing situation about mail being infected by anthrax, and we have heard that we have anthrax in one of our laboratories. Can you tell us what is being done to assure campus safety?
Since the first occurrence of anthrax in Florida, the entire country has been understandably nervous. I would like to assure parents that there has been no public health risk at the University. We are implementing appropriate security precautions in key areas around campus. Mary Gilchrist, director of the Hygienic Laboratory, a nationally recognized expert on biological hazards and bioterrorism, is working diligently with state agencies to reinforce security for potentially harmful agents at the lab.
Parents who have a concern about security or suspicious activity may please contact our Department of Public Safety at 335-5022. For suggestions or concerns that are not related to security, contact David Skorton, interim vice president for external relations (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can keep updated at this website: www.uiowa.edu/~ournews/newsupdates.html.