Education

UCLA launches task force on campus safety after shooting

Students attend a candlelight vigil for professor William Klug at the University of California, Los Angeles, Thursday, June 2, 2016.
Students attend a candlelight vigil for professor William Klug at the University of California, Los Angeles, Thursday, June 2, 2016.
Kelvin Kuo/AP

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Students and administrators at UCLA are examining campus safety — including concerns raised about classroom doors with no locks — after a murder-suicide earlier this month that left a beloved engineering professor dead.

In a letter to students and faculty Tuesday, Chancellor Gene Block said a new task force will review the university's response. Separately, students will announce Friday the creation of the UCLA Institute on Campus Violence Friday to study strategies to end campus violence.

"As the 186th school shooting since Sandy Hook, UCLA students pledge to take a stand on campus violence," UCLA student body president Danny Siegel said. "No student, faculty, or staff should ever feel unsafe on campus - after 186 school shootings, we come together to send a clear message: no more."

Authorities believe former student Mainak Sarkar killed his estranged wife in a Minneapolis suburb before driving halfway across the country to Los Angeles and fatally shooting professor William Klug on June 1. Klug had helped Sarkar earn his engineering Ph.D. in 2013.

Immediately after the shooting, UCLA went into lockdown and a massive police response converged on campus.

Inside classrooms, some students found they were unable to lock their doors. Images of panicked students keeping doors secured with desks, chairs and printers posted on social media sparked questions and raised alarm.

Scott Waugh, an executive vice chancellor and provost at the school, later told reporters university officials were troubled by reports of unlocked doors.

The issue of doors that cannot lock from the inside has come up in other deadly campus shootings, including one at Virginia Tech in 2007 where students barricaded themselves inside rooms. Some schools have installed locks in recent years after attacks. Most security experts agree getting into a locked room is one of the most effective deterrents against getting shot. But wider adoption has been hindered by cost and local fire codes.

In his letter, Block said the university has devoted "considerable attention" to crisis preparedness in recent years, including active shooter drills. In addition to locks, he said a university security analysis will also look at UCLA's emergency notification process.

"We must now carefully study our actions and reactions to determine what more we can do to protect our community from violence," Block wrote.

On Friday UCLA student body vice president Sabrina Ziegler said the institute should be in memory of the UCLA professor shot dead last week by one of his former graduate students.

The UCLA shooting was the 186th campus shooting since the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut massacre.

"To learn nothing from what occurred last Wednesday would be an affront to William Klug’s memory, for him and for the 185 that came before it and for every student, we must do better," she said.

She and others said the new  institute could look into student mental health and the prevalence of guns.

State legislators are already working on those issues. Several joined Zeigler at UCLA on Friday to push bills in Sacramento that would increase funding for college mental health services "an investment that perhaps can prevent future attacks and provide for the safety of our students," said Assemblyman Jose Medina, the chair of the Assembly's Higher Education Committee.

Another bill would create a gun research center at the University of California.

“Once again it is time for California to lead and research on gun violence," Medina said. 

This story has been updated.