November 27, 2000

C.U. Tests Keycard System for Dorms

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Your student ID card can get you a lot — meals, laundry, library books, special discounts. Without it you would feel virtually lost. Soon, however, this little plastic card will assume an even greater degree of importance — it will become the key to your dorm.

Under a new card access system that Cornell is now implementing, a quick swipe of your ID will enable computer databases to detect who you are and to determine which residence halls you may enter.

“It’s kind of like one-stop shopping,” said Bonnie Griffith, project coordinator for card access, speaking of the increased versatility and convenience of the student ID card with the new card access.

The overall goal is to keep abreast of the latest college technology while increasing campus safety and cutting the expenses that come with the old lock and key system, according to Peter Eliason, director of facilities for campus life.

Through a built-in security system, card access will make it possible for Campus Life to track who enters the buildings at what time and to know if the dorm doors are left open for an extended period.

“This is the right move for the University for improving its security. It is convenient and blends in well with the existing system,” said Patrick Savolskis, manager of housing and dining.

Under the old system, a lost key required Campus Life to change the entire building lock and reissue keys to all the residents — an option too pricey and impractical to implement in most cases.

Lost ID cards, on the other hand, can be deactivated as soon as they are reported, thereby protecting residents in a cost effective manner, according to Savolskis.

For some Cornellians, card access to dormitories is already a reality.

Anna Comstock, which houses the Latino Living Center, went online at the end of October. On Thursday, the Language House in Boldt Hall will log onto the system. In January after students return from winter break, residents of Just About Music in Low Rise 9 will join the test program.

“Things have gone quite smoothly so far,” Eliason said, noting that no problems have been reported. He even remembered receiving one complementary e-mail about the system.

Ana Cajina ’04 noted that most of her fellow Comstock residents seemed positive about the new system at floor meetings.

“[Card access] is better because it’s more secure — especially for program houses, because of the recent string of bias-related incidents. It’s a great way of keeping things in check,” she said.

“I like the convenience,” added Olivia Gutierrez ’03, resident of Comstock.

Other Cornellians were less optimistic about the change.

Language House resident Greg Padowski ’03 indicated that some students had expressed worries about the built-in security system that accompanies card access.

“Some people think it’s like Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the University can gather info on you like spy satellites,” Padowski said.

The three program houses were selected as pilots for the initiative because they all underwent construction over the summer, and it was convenient to install the wiring during this time, said Peggy Beach, associate director of campus life.

The two new dorms on North Campus — Court and Mews — plus the new Community Center will open in August with card access.

The key-card security will be especially important over break periods so that the buildings can remain locked but still accessible to those students who remain on campus, noted Beach.

Additionally, there are tentative plans to add card access to the High Rise buildings next fall, according to Savolskis.

Within the next three to five years, Campus Life plans to install card access in all University dorms, according to Beach.

“This is something that’s been a long time in coming,” Eliason said. Administrators began considering card access programs nearly two years back. The initiative quickly gained ascendancy last spring, however, after representatives from Cornell attended a conference in Miami in order to learn more about card access programs at other schools.

“I found that we were behind the times,” said Griffith, who attended the conference.

Many schools such as Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Rochester had already implemented such systems.

Presented with a variety of options for card access, Cornell selected one that was upgradable and meshed well with the current dining card system, according to Griffith.

The program is currently a joint effort between Campus Life and the University. In the future the system may be expanded to all University buildings, according to Griffith, but for the time being the focus is on the dorms.

“This is the technology of the future, and we feel that it is important to be a part of it,” Beach said.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts