SMU establishes new policies, procedures on workplace violence

(Originally published Aug. 13, 2010.)

Stock photo of business people in an escalating argumentNo campus is immune from the possibility of violence by one community member against another. This summer, SMU has taken steps to ensure that all faculty and staff members have easy access to University resources when harassment, intimidation and other hostile acts are committed or threatened in the workplace.

“For some time now, we have been interested in getting a formal workplace-violence policy and program in place,” says Jeff Strese, SMU Director of Human Resources. The departments responsible for preventing and reacting to risk have been working together for years, he says. Human Resources, Legal Affairs, the SMU Police Department, Institutional Access and Equity, and Risk Management meet regularly to deal with high-risk issues and involve one another as appropriate.

Associate Vice President for Human Resources and Business Services Bill Detwiler and Vice President for Legal Affairs Paul Ward spearheaded the effort to improve connection and communication among these areas. “This is an opportunity to better deploy the resources that already exist,” Strese says. “It creates an umbrella for the whole University that allows our offices to work together to respond to or mitigate any risk.”

Campuses across the country have begun to focus on raising awareness of workplace violence during the past year, Strese adds. The issue came to national attention in February 2010, when a University of Alabama-Huntsville professor who had been denied tenure shot six colleagues in a departmental staff meeting, killing three.

“When you look at case studies of campus violence, you find that in every single one of them there was previous knowledge and concern,” Strese says. “We intend to streamline the information-gathering process so that intervention can occur earlier in situations where there is an emerging threat or risk, whether it comes from inside or outside this community.”

SMU’s program includes a new policy on workplace violence, added to the University Policy Manual in August. Policy No. 10.12 in the Public Safety section includes clear descriptions of prohibited behaviors, as well as procedures for reporting violence and threats of violence from an SMU community member or visitor.

A new website,, provides e-mail and telephone contacts for reporting concerns securely and confidentially. It also serves as a clearinghouse for information on policy and procedure.

In addition, the University has established a Workplace Violence Assessment Team, which includes representatives from the offices of the Provost, Risk Management, Legal Affairs and Human Resources. The team will meet as needed to review individual cases and recommend appropriate responses in accordance with University policies. Other staff or faculty members, or both, may be invited to join on a case-by-case basis.

The new program “is not intended to supersede any existing policies or processes, such as those coordinated by the Office of Student Life or the Ethics and Tenure Committee,” says Anita Ingram, SMU Executive Director of Risk Management. The Workplace Violence Assessment Team will review each case it receives to determine if it should be referred to the appropriate area, she says.

> Learn more at
> Find SMU’s University Policy Manual online

SMU names new VP for Legal Affairs

Paul WardPaul Ward, vice president for university administration and general counsel at Arizona State University, has been named SMU’s vice president for legal affairs, general counsel and secretary to the Board of Trustees, effective Jan. 1, 2009.

Ward received his J.D. degree from the SMU School of Law in 1975. He has been admitted to practice law in Texas, Arizona, South Carolina, Indiana, the District of Columbia and the United States Supreme Court. He succeeds Leon Bennett, SMU’s vice president for legal affairs and governmental relations, general counsel and secretary to the Board of Trustees. Bennett has been with the University since 1983 and will retire Dec. 31, 2008.

At SMU, Ward will oversee legal services to the University, including the supervision of three staff attorneys, and selection and management of outside counsel. Additionally, as Secretary to the Board of Trustees, he will work closely with the president and senior administrative officers in coordinating the Board’s activities.

“We are pleased to welcome Paul Ward to SMU,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “As an SMU law alumnus, he knows the University, and his extensive background in legal affairs at other universities gives him the knowledge and experience to lead SMU’s legal affairs division.”

Read more from SMU News

General Counsel Leon Bennett to retire at end of 2008

Leon BennettS. Leon Bennett, SMU’s General Counsel, Vice President for Legal Affairs and Government Relations, and Secretary to the Board of Trustees, will retire from the University effective Dec. 31, 2008. Bennett will work on special projects for SMU during the summer and fall.

In a letter to the SMU community, President R. Gerald Turner wrote, “For 25 years, Leon has led SMU’s Office of Legal Affairs during a time in which legal issues affecting colleges and universities have grown in number and complexity. Typically working behind the scenes, he has handled challenging and sensitive issues with professionalism, discretion and wisdom. As Secretary to the Board of Trustees, he has supported the work of the Board through its restructuring in the late 1980s and continued refinements for greater organizational efficiency.

“As the University has worked to implement its Centennial Master Plan for campus development, Leon has been instrumental in facilitating SMU’s acquisition of nearby property, working closely with the cities of University Park, Highland Park and Dallas on development issues. He has built important relationships as well with the Texas legislature, the U.S. Congress and government agencies on public policy issues affecting higher education in general and SMU in particular. Most recently, he played a critical role in preparations and negotiations for the George W. Bush Presidential Library, helping to craft the detailed and historic documents of SMU’s agreement with the Bush Foundation.

“In all areas of his leadership, Leon’s primary concern has been representing the University’s best interests. Looking at the span of his service – from 1983 to the present – it is not difficult to imagine the range of activity, adaptations, growth and challenges that SMU has experienced. Leon has been there every step of the way as attorney, vice president, corporate officer and trusted colleague.

“I know you will join me in thanking Leon and wishing him well.”