Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley announced on Tuesday, Sept. 2, that the University hired Scott Rohde to fill the position of Director of Public Safety (PSafe). Rohde will begin his term on Wednesday, Oct. 1.
The search for a new director began in May 2013, following the retirement of former Director David Meyer after 33 years of service in the University’s Office of Public Safety. Tony Bostick served as Interim Director while Whaley and a search committee of faculty, staff, and students interviewed candidates.
Rohde was chosen from the fourth pool of candidates after the first three rounds produced no available candidates that the search committee felt were compatible with the University. He has been the Chief of Public Safety at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse since 1998, monitoring police operations and campus safety for a population of 11,000 students. Previously, he was the Chief of Police in Sauk Prairie, Wis.
“I love working in the campus environment especially helping to keep students safe,” Rohde wrote in an email to The Argus. “I was looking for some new challenges and Wesleyan struck me as a great fit…. I love the importance Wesleyan places on a liberal arts education. Everyone I have met so far is very dedicated to the University and committed to supporting learning.”
Over the summer, Rohde visited campus and met with representatives from Human Resources, PSafe, the Middletown Police Department, and various other student and faculty groups as part of his interview process. Since the University was not in session, the search committee invited a group of 20 students who were still on campus to a presentation about community policing and a question-and-answer session with Rohde. This replaced an open event of the same nature, which was standard for previous candidate interviews.
Several students expressed concern that Rohde’s presentation was not available for the majority of University students. Andrew Olson ’16 stated that he is disappointed in the University for making this decision without giving the majority of students the opportunity to provide input.
“It deeply bothers me that this kind of decision was made without our participation because not only is it insulting, it is irresponsible,” Olson said. “Given Mr. Rohde’s history at his previous employment, I’m very concerned about the type of attitude that he is going to take toward enforcing policies at Wesleyan and the negative consequences that might arise from those potential actions. I think that we had more of a rapport—that I personally had more of a rapport with the committee, and an understanding with the administration that we were responsible for this decision, that there would be student participation.”
Olson noted in particular the alcohol policy Rohde upheld at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
“It concerns me that the University of Wisconsin has such a draconian policy against alcohol that does not seem, to me,…[to] deter drinking,” he said. “It just puts more fines out and pushes it into spaces that may not be safe…. To hire someone who has enforced those kinds of policies, I just feel like we didn’t get anywhere…. I’m open to see what kind of job that Mr. Rohde does, and I really hope that it ends up being a good choice for Wesleyan, but I think that this decision is very flawed.”
Whaley stated that Rohde’s experience and professionalism made him stand out among the pool of finalists.
“This last group was really pretty strong, and we felt that probably several of them would be very strong in the relationship-building piece and community policing orientation, but I think that for Scott [Rohde], what stood out was his experience and professionalism,” Whaley said. “…The department has done a really good job of maintaining and starting to move in a more positive direction than two years ago, but I really feel like we needed somebody with a lot of experience who can hit the ground running and is not going to have a really steep learning curve.”
Whaley added that, although any new director will have an adjustment period, he hopes Rohde’s previous work will help him acclimate quickly to the University community.
“The curve to learn Wesleyan culture and how the place works is going to be there for anybody who is new to the intuition, but for Scott [Rohde]—because he knows the work so well, he knows the compliance issues, he knows best practices—he has a really hefty tool box of skills and ideas,” he said.
Under Rohde’s leadership, PSafe will begin to address changes recommended in the external report on the department conducted by Margolis Healy & Associates in May 2013. These recommendations ranged from seeking accreditation through a law enforcement agency and reconstituting a Public Safety Advisory Committee to standardizing uniforms and logos across campus.
Although he plans to review all of the recommendations in the report, Rohde announced that his first priority is to develop a relationship with the community.
“Overall I want the department to embrace a problem-solving approach to public safety,” Rohde wrote. “That means the staff must work closely with the campus community to provide the best possible service and build partnerships. I want the department to be open and approachable at all times….Prevention awareness is very important to me, and I look forward to sharing my expertise with the campus.”
Whaley also expressed a desire for more communication between PSafe and the community as well as transparency regarding PSafe policy.
“I think that it would be really good to be as up-front as possible and as transparent as possible about how Public Safety will react to situations so that everybody knows what to expect and we can debate whether or not that is an appropriate response in front of when it is delivered instead of after it’s delivered,” Whaley said. “There are a lot of policies that they have in their policy manual, but not much of that is available to the community online, so it’s not really a transparent process right now.”
Aidan Martinez ’17 served as a member of the search committee in this round of interviews and voiced strong support of Rohde.
“I strongly believe that [Rohde] will encourage the officers to interact with students more,” Martinez said. “While he does recognize the need for policy enforcement, he also realizes that these people live in a community with us and we should not see them as enforcers. They are here for our wellbeing and Scott wants to make that known. At the same time, I envision more clarity as to what consequences will follow certain actions. One thing that really excited me about Mr. Rohde was the collaboration he formed between UW and the La Crosse police force.”
Whaley believes that a new hire with considerable experience will help PSafe improve its relationship with the University community and move the department in a positive direction.
“[Rohde] has a love for the work and a real passion for being on campus,” Whaley said. “…He knows that this place is a unique place; it’s not cookie-cutter. He’s really enthusiastic about learning the place, he’s enthusiastic about the work, and he’s excited. I think that those things go a long way, especially when you add a high level of expertise to them. I think they’ll go a long way in helping us to move the department forward.”