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Sunday, February 05, 2023 — Houston, TX

In responding to camera concerns, claiming ignorance makes it worse

By Thresher Editorial Board     1/18/22 11:02pm

Last Monday, Rice announced that a live video feed of the Academic Quad was available online. Two days later, in response to students raising concerns, Rice announced on Twitter that the camera would be disabled during Baker 13 runs. The next day, at nearly 11 p.m., three days after the initial announcement, Rice again took to Twitter to say that the camera would be disabled as the university reviews student concerns. 

The immediate aftermath of the announcement can best be described as disgruntled, as students expressed concerns over safety, including the potential for stalking and allowing someone to view students walking alone at night. The university claimed the camera did not have the capability to zoom in, which is definitively false. Multiple students also hypothesized that the 24/7 livestreaming camera pointed directly at the statue of William Marsh Rice could be used to monitor student protests. To put it mildly, it seems that the student reaction was anything but what the administration expected it to be when future-President Reginald DesRoches enthusiastically encouraged his Twitter followers to “check it out!

Doug Miller, Rice’s director of news and media relations, had a very busy week speaking with what seemed like every news outlet in the city, telling them that “the whole idea behind [the camera] was just to show off how beautiful Rice University is. That was the whole point.”

For argument’s sake, we’re going to give the administration the benefit of the doubt and accept their statements that they did not ignore student safety concerns, nor were they attempting to monitor Willy’s Statue, with their placement of the camera. 

The administration’s reaction to students’ concerns, defensive and surprised, shows a startling lack of awareness. Put simply, it’s clear that they don’t know their students.

Outrage from students was so instantaneous and unified that it took only three days for the camera to be turned off. A reaction so swift and merciless can and should have been foreseen by the administration. Moreover, any number of students could have warned about the potential for this reaction had they been consulted prior to the announcement. But as Miller told Houston Press, they “didn’t think anybody would object to it, to be honest.”

Miller later said that the administration conducted their own tests of the camera’s zoom capabilities, so perhaps they did consider the potential nefarious uses for the camera. But discussions around the founder’s statue and its accompanying protests have been everywhere on campus for over a year and a half. To think putting a live video feed of the quad online, including the prominently displayed statue, would not elicit a strong reaction is short sighted at best and ignorant at worst.

The fact that such apparent concerns took the administration by surprise is upsetting, to say the least. While we appreciate that student concerns were taken seriously and that the camera is no longer operational for now, our disappointment stems from the lack of forethought given to what we feel were painfully obvious issues with this camera’s placement. 

Moving forward, we ask that administrators actively consider potential student concerns and reach out for feedback. That these objections were unforeseen speaks to the need for the administration to forge a deeper relationship with the student body. 

This entire situation could have been avoided with a simple email asking students for their thoughts on the camera’s placement. Instead, we got the chaos of the past week. And all for what, exactly? A cool view of one of the most photographed spots in all of Houston?

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Savannah Kuchar, Ben Baker-Katz, Nayeli Shad, Talha Arif, Morgan Gage and Daniel Schrager.

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