Isabelle Jung/Sun Contributor

March 13, 2023

LEVIN | Change Our Locks!

Print More

Earlier this month, a thief snuck into an unattended dorm room in George Jameson Hall and absconded with a student’s wallet. Last month, in the ungodly hours of the morning, an unidentified robber trespassed into a vacant, unlocked room on West Campus and made off with a television set. On Feb. 16, a napping student in an unsecured dorm awoke to a foul odor emanating from under her bed. She craned her head beneath her mattress and, for five unbroken seconds, locked eyes with an intruder whom she had never seen before. The creep crawled out from under the bed, ran off and remains uncaught. On the afternoon of Nov. 15, a thief purloined a tablet and a laptop from an unlocked room during a fire alarm evacuation. In late October, a string of burglaries struck unlocked, unoccupied dorms in Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall. Upon returning, victims reported clothing, credit cards and money missing. 

In all of these startling cases, students left their doors unlocked, and I believe that Cornell is in large part to blame. Currently, the University charges 104 dollars for a lock change to students who lose their keys. To avoid paying that excessive fine, many students sacrifice their security and leave their keys in their rooms where they are least likely to lose them. Often, students who have already misplaced their keys keep their doors unlocked until they relocate them, are forced to pay the fine or end up being taken by surprise in a nighttime heist. As one of my peers admits in a recent Cornell Daily Sun news article, “I lost my key for a period, so we never really locked [our door].” 

To solve the problem of unlocked doors, Cornell needs to discard its old-fashioned lock-and-key system and invest in keycard scanners for every dorm room. The benefits of switching from manual locks to keycard scanners are twofold: 1) Doors with keycard scanners lock automatically so that students’ rooms would be secured at all times; 2) Students who lose their keycards wouldn’t need to pay such absurd fees to replace them. As for the first advantage of keycards, nearly every student has at some point forgotten to lock their door when rushing to or returning from class. With self-locking doors, the keycard system would entirely eliminate that safety issue. On the second point, keycards are inexpensive to replace and, when reported lost, can be deactivated at the press of a button. Never again would students be overcharged by the University in the event that they misplace one. 

My proposal is neither unrealistic nor high-tech. Every lodging company from Marriott to Motel 6 employs a keycard system to ensure a basic modicum of safety for their clientele. Keycards are no new innovation either: hotels, motels and college dorms have been increasingly relying on them since they came onto the market in the 1970s. The fact that Cornell has not installed keycard scanners on every dorm room in any of the 50 years that the technology has been available is, to me, evidence of negligence. Next time your phone buzzes with a CUPD crime alert detailing an unlocked door and an unidentified intruder, know that the University’s inaction allowed another student to be victimized. 

Remember, the University has the software infrastructure that could serve as the basis for a keycard system to protect every dorm room. Entrances to dorm buildings already have ID scanners to restrict ingress to students, resident faculty and maintenance staff. These alone, however, are apparently ineffective at thwarting burglaries (CUPD warns that thieves wait at entrances for unwitting students to let them in). If administrators develop the current system to cover every dorm room, students could use their ID cards as keycards to enter both their dorm buildings and rooms. Expanding our current keycard system would also mean that potential thieves who gain undue access to dorm buildings wouldn’t be able to trespass into any dorm rooms. 

If you’re wealthy enough to stay at the Statler Hotel for a nightly rate of somewhere between 200 and 400 dollars, Cornell will grant you the basic protection that I’m advocating for. At the Statler Hotel, every room boasts the security of a keycard scanner, and that’s probably why you never hear of robberies striking there. Imagine the outrage if, at the Statler Hotel, a midnight marauder roused a sleeping corporate bigwig and robbed them for all they’re worth. Well, that happens alarmingly often to students who live in dorms. If Cornell already knows how to implement a large-scale keycard system for the high-end guests of the Statler Hotel, why don’t they do the same for us students?

In an unavailing attempt to answer that question, I looked into the current lock change procedure for students. Whenever a key is reported missing and the University changes a lock, the maintenance crew puts the original lock in reserve and reuses an older one from a previous replacement. Contrary to intuition, the fee doesn’t finance a brand new lock. When I lost my key and paid the mandatory fine, the locksmith came to my room and completed the replacement in less than five minutes, and the lock wasn’t even new — far from it, in fact. The doorknob was clearly discolored, stripped of its bronze finish from years of prior use. The way I see it, neither the manual labor required to replace a lock nor the cost of a lock itself justify the 104 dollar charge.

Still, Brandi Smith-Berger, the Associate Director of Conference and Event Services, claims that, though more students than ever before are reporting missing keys, the University isn’t turning a profit. She emphasized that fulfilling any given lock change request is an involved process that passes through many hands: workers document key change requests on various convoluted software systems, locksmiths cut fresh keys, and so on. It’s plainly obvious that the lock-and-key system is inefficient, and we students are the ones that ultimately pay the price for the bureaucracy that surrounds it. Under a keycard system, staff could put their time to better use and students could save their money.

Cornell, with its near ten billion dollar endowment, shouldn’t put a price tag on its students’ safety, charging my peers steep prices for something so intrinsic to their security as the locks on their doors. The lock change fee is overpriced and the outdated lock-and-key system is not only woefully inefficient but has undeniable security vulnerabilities that risk student safety. Our tradition goes back to 1865, but our technology shouldn’t: This is the 21st century, and it’s about time that the University modernizes every dorm room with keycard scanners. 

Gabriel Levin is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Almost Fit to Print runs every other Monday this semester.