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'U' faculty considers classroom doors that lock from the inside

BY HILLARY KATSIN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published July 1, 2009

In wake of incidents like the Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech shootings that occurred within the last two and a half years, University administrators are considering equipping classrooms with doors that lock from the inside.

Physics Professor Keith Riles introduced the issue at the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs meeting last month and said that adding doorknobs that lock from the inside to University classrooms may help keep students and staff safe.

Though Riles’s idea is currently not a concrete project, individuals from the Office of Facilities and Operations have been conducting research and collecting feedback to see if adding doors that lock from the inside would be beneficial to University classrooms.

Diane Brown, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said in an interview last week that current fire regulations in the state of Michigan require that all doors inside campus buildings swing outward into the hall and that there is only one step required — like turning a door handle — for an individual to exit the room.

All doors currently have a single lock that is incorporated into the doorknob, rather than a dead bolt and a doorknob, which would create a second step to exit each room.

“At home, you have a dead bolt and a door knob,” Brown said. “That is not permitted in Michigan for fire safety, so we can’t just throw on a lock. It must be integrated into the door handle mechanism.”

Brown said that if University administration intends to act upon Riles' idea, all of the doorknobs in every building would have to be replaced. She added that replacing doorknobs in hundreds of buildings and thousands of classrooms would be costly and time-consuming. Furthermore, the University would have to decide whether to replace the doorknobs all at once or over time as buildings get renovated.

But supporters of the plan think the benefits of the concept outweigh the potential costs. Riles wrote in an e-mail interview that it is an important project to ensure campus safety.

“I happened to be teaching a class in the Dennison high-rise the semester of the NIU shooting,” Riles wrote. “(I) realized that not only could I not lock my classroom door, but I couldn’t even barricade the door effectively, as was attempted at Virginia Tech, because the Dennison doors open to the outside — not the inside.”

Riles wrote that one of the main arguments against installing the new locks brought up at the meeting was that doors would be locked unintentionally, making classroom access difficult during scheduled class hours, as well as after hours.

Thomas Matthews, a Ross School of Business senior, said he doesn’t think the new doors should be installed, fearing that they would be locked during inconvenient times.

“In a situation like the one they are envisioning it seems like it would be a good precaution,” he said. “But I like having the classrooms open all of the time for studying.”

Brown said that installing the new doors would be a likely solution in the event of a threat, but that it would be a huge and complicated project. She added that if a project is initiated, University administration will have to determine who will finance it and what the construction process will look like.