University awaits officer contract approval

While the university approved a budget plan for 2017-2019 including contracts for permanent law enforcement officers on campus, Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding said his office and administration are “still hammering out the details” of said contracts.

President Linda Bennett will present the budget plan, approved by the university Board of Trustees last week, to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education Thursday.

John Farless, director of University Communications, said Tuesday the university is not “giving out any more interviews” until it has reached a “memorandum of understanding” with the sheriff’s office.

“(Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Bridges) and I have had multiple discussions about ways to protect campus,” Wedding said. “He has to make sure everything’s good with the university and the money’s good, and on my side, I have to go to county commissioners to investigate the legality of the contract.”

The three members of the Board of Commissioners acts as the executive and legislative body for Vanderburgh, according to Wedding said without their approval, the sheriff’s office can’t go through with a contract like the one the university approved.

“(Bridges and I) haven’t reached out yet to figure out the gameplan,” Wedding said. “He’s waiting to clear a few hurdles, but we both agree in this day and age, it’s probably good to have police officers on campus.”

While most details have yet to be determined, Wedding said he expects there to be a difference between what public safety officers and the officers from his office will be doing at the university.

“They have different duties,” he said. “Law enforcement officers can make arrests and be conducting investigations on campus when there are true crimes.”

Wedding said he is not 100 percent sure, but he also expects the Vanderburgh County officers to still be paid through his office and not university payroll. He plans to continue recruiting and training officers whether they’re on duty for the county or permanently stationed at the university.

“I’m sure (Bridges and the university) will reach out once they’re further along with this plan,” Wedding said. “We don’t want to pull the cart before the horse. We don’t want to rush into this because it’s a pretty big undertaking.”

USI is one of four universities, including Indiana University, Indiana State University and Vincennes University, presenting budget plans to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education Thursday.

Before the commission can make any recommendations, it must hear budget plans from all Indiana universities it presides over, said spokesperson Stephanie Wilson.

She said the commission should be “ready to take a look at and vote on all budgets by November.”

The commission, however, is not the last step in the process.

“A university will make its budget request to all commissioners,” she said, “and then they make the same presentation to state legislators. Based on the budget requests, the state commission will formulate its own budget recommendations and present them to state legislators.”

Wilson said legislators won’t hear any presentations until January, and then university budgets passed by the state run from July 2017 to the end of June 2019.

When individual colleges present to state legislators, those lawmakers can ask specific questions to whoever is representing the university, she said. The state commission’s recommendations differ from a university’s request in that the commission bases its proposals on the bigger picture of state funding as a whole.

“(In approving budgets) we stand for any efforts that give students the support they need to complete college,” Wilson said. “We are also really interested in issues such as affordability. What do tuition rates look like, and what are colleges doing to be more transparent about rates and costs of college?”

In terms of campus security, which USI spokesperson Ben Luttrull told the Evansville Courier & Press will comprise the majority of the university budget, Wilson said the issue isn’t a standout concern for the commission.

“We’re a lot more involved with the academic side and not law enforcement,” she said. “We really do rely on our colleges, though, to tell us what their needs and recommendations are. It’s a collaborative process.”