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Agency sparks controversy on campus

A visit from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in August troubled faculty members when government officials entered the San Marcos campus equipped with video cameras to survey the school grounds, various buildings and the interior of several staff offices.

School administrators said it was done to ensure campus safety.

During a recent faculty meeting, several Palomar staff members raised concerns about the agency’s visit, claiming it came without notice or explanation and that it demonstrated a lack of professionalism.

A professor at Palomar said he’s concerned that a government agency connected with anti-terrorism entered his personal space without warning.

Another faculty member, Diane Studinka, an associate professor of Child Development, said she’s not upset about the visit, but was surprised to see several government officials, with ‘Department of Homeland Security’ emblazoned on their shirts, on campus with video cameras.

“Anyone can come into my office at any time,” Studinka said, “but we should’ve been notified, along with why this is taking place. We still don’t know why they did this.”

According to Laura Gropen, Palomar’s director of communications, marketing and public affairs, the visit was a routine procedure, arranged between the school’s union representatives and the DHS. She said the agency visits hundreds of schools and universities across the country to ensure safety standards and emergency preparedness.

Gropen said the reason for videotaping campus facilities is to best view which tactical strategies to use in case of an emergency. When asked why the agency entered several private offices, she explained that the doors to those offices were already propped open, so the agents took it as an opportunity to look inside.

“The purpose of this program is for the safety and security of faculty and students, for mapping out facilities and campuses. It’s a great opportunity for us to get the best tools in our arsenal for protecting the campus,” Gropen said.

Justin Rios, vice president of the Associated Student Government, said he takes a neutral position on the matter.

“I understand their frustration,” Rios said, referring to disgruntled staff, “but everyone’s got a job to do. And this is the Department of Homeland Security.”

What’s interesting, however, is the email response from the DHS when asked to comment on the issue.

“The DHS did not visit Palomar College recently. You have the wrong agency,” the email said.

Until more information is available, it remains somewhat unclear which government department entered the campus with video cameras to videotape common areas and offices, and what, exactly, was recorded during the visit.

Gropen said, “Palomar is still waiting for the videos so they can be reviewed. We still don’t know what’s on them.”

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