Campus alert: Online threat prompts University of Chicago to cancel classes

In an era of mass shootings, universities find that they can’t afford to take any chances.

The University of Chicago cancelled classes, events, and athletic activities on Monday after a threat of gun violence was posted online.

After a tip from the FBI that an online threat from an unknown person specifically mentioned the campus quad, a popular gathering place, and a time of 10 a.m. on Monday, the university decided not to take chances, urging faculty, students and non-essential staff to stay away from the Hyde Park campus on Chicago's South Side Monday.

Students in campus housing were urged to should stay indoors.

Recent tragic events at other campuses across the country, said the university in a statement, have made administrators more cautious.

"We have decided in consultation with federal and local law enforcement officials, to exercise caution by canceling all classes and activities on the Hyde Park campus through midnight on Monday," its statement said.

There have been at least 25 shootings on college campuses in the United States in 2015, reports Time magazine.

A gunman at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, killed nine people last month, reports the Associated Press. Campuses in Arizona and Tennessee have also experienced shootings.  

There have also been false alarms, such as a bomb threat at Harvard University recently, which prompted the evacuation of four buildings on campus and a five-hour police search that turned up nothing.

The threats of such violence poses a challenge to schools trying to balance the responsibility of keeping students safe and not allowing fear to rule the campus.

"Over the last several years, campuses have implemented more-consistent and systematic practices to identify and manage threats," Gene Deisinger, a managing partner at Sigma Threat Management Associates, which trains organizations to assess threats and prevent violence, told The Chronicle of Higher Education recently.

"Campuses are under very close scrutiny from students, parents, the public at large, and government," Mr. Deisinger said, "and they’re more inclined to make decisions that they won’t look back on after the fact and regret."

The full statement from the University of Chicago is below:

The University was informed by FBI counterterrorism officials today (Sunday) that an unknown individual posted an online threat of gun violence against the University of Chicago, specifically mentioning “the campus quad” on Monday morning at 10 a.m. Based on the FBI’s assessment of this threat and recent tragic events at other campuses across the country, we have decided in consultation with federal and local law enforcement officials, to exercise caution by canceling all classes and activities on the Hyde Park campus through midnight on Monday. All non-medical faculty, students and non-essential staff are asked not to come to the Hyde Park campus on Monday, or to remain indoors as much as possible if they are on campus.  Students in College Housing are asked to stay indoors and await direct communication from College Housing Staff.

In response to the threat, the University will have an increased police and security presence on and around campus, including police personnel with visible weapons and other additional measures. University security personnel are keeping in close contact with the FBI, which is continuing to investigate the threat.

In addition to canceling all classes and events at the Hyde Park campus, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, the University of Chicago Charter School campuses, the University libraries, the Quadrangle Club, and other campus facilities will be closed on Monday. The University of Chicago Medical Center will remain open to patients, with added security measures. Student Health and Counseling Services will be closed; students may consult for additional information. Medical Center faculty and staff involved in patient care will receive additional details later this evening.

All University staff and faculty members who do not have emergency duties or patient care responsibilities are encouraged to avoid coming to the Hyde Park campus on Monday. Individuals with questions about their status should contact their immediate supervisors. We will provide updates at the University homepage, as more information becomes available, with the expectation of resuming normal University operations on Tuesday.

If you see anything unusual or have urgent questions about security measures, please contact the Unersity of Chicago Police Department at 773-702-8181. Students living on campus who are seeking additional information should contact their resident heads. 

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