Special Report: Is crime hurting SIU's Image?

CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - Southern Illinois University is working hard to increase its enrollment, but recent crime on and off campus may be hurting those efforts.

Chancellor Rita Cheng says SIU does have an image problem.

"I think the image problem is something we've created because when you don't communicate to people what you're about people will make up their own opinions," Cheng said. "Then the only thing that's in the public arena are the negatives."

Lately, SIU has seen quite a few negatives. In the month of December alone, several criminal incidents rocked SIU. Ten SIU students were arrested following a brawl outside a residence hall. The following week three SIU students were kicked off campus for their part in an alleged armed robbery at a residence hall. Later, racist graffiti popped up on a campus greenhouse. Cheng says in every instance SIU administration took a hard line.

"It's like a little city and every city has some bad eggs," said Cheng. "So what we've done is set the bar really high and if our campus policies are violated, those students aren't here."

Director of SIU Public Safety Todd Sigler and others are working to find the "bad eggs" before they hatch on campus. Sigler is part of the Chancellor's new campus life safety task force. The group is digging deeper, trying to root out the causes of campus crime - and keep would-be criminals off campus.

"We're going to be mining data from admissions and all the areas we feel we may be able to find answers and patterns to why certain individuals may not be the best fit for college at this time in their life," Sigler said.

SIU, like most other colleges, does not run a background check on potential students. Instead, there's a voluntary disclosure portion on the admission application.

"It asks individuals to disclose if they've been convicted of certain crimes, certain types of violence," said Sigler. "It's a self-disclosure policy."

Carbondale City Councilwoman Jane Adams says that may not be enough.

"It may be that the university is recruiting people who bring with them crime," Adams said. "People who have a record or a history."

Adams says SIU may need to change its recruiting efforts to create a safer campus.

"I think the university has to look very hard at that and figure out how to recruit the kinds of students who are serious about education," said Adams.

That's one of Sigler's missions on the new task force.

"We're trying to undercover if possible what are some signals, some warning signs that we need to be attentive to in regards to folks seeking admission," said Sigler.

In 2012 SIU landed on (but was later removed) from business insider's list of dangerous campuses. Chancellor Cheng says crime doesn't just happen on campus.

"When you look at something like what I consider a bogus ranking about "dangerous campuses" it's statistics they compile from the whole area, not the campus statistics," Cheng said.

That's why she says the campus life safety task force is working with city officials to curb Carbondale crime as well; to clear SIU's perhaps unwarranted reputation as a dangerous place.

"When you look at all the other positive things SIU has going, this should by no means be what SIU is known for," Sigler said.

Heartland News attempted to contact Carbondale Police Chief Jody O'Guinn for this story, but our calls were not returned.

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