Faculty shaken by laptop thefts

By on December 8, 2004

On Nov. 17 when Margarita Diaz, assistant professor of journalism, returned to her office, she discovered her laptop had been stolen. In the following two weeks, four other professors in three different buildings would find themselves in a similar situation, despite a recently-released 2003 campus safety report by university security reporting just one burglary on campus between 2001 and 2003.

Following the theft from Diaz’s office in the School of Communications, Dr. Grace Levine, professor of communications, had a laptop stolen from her office. In Tator Hall, Donald Buckley, director of learning technology in the School of Health Sciences, discovered that a Mac, one of 12 laptops in his office, had been stolen; in Buckman Center, Charles Naden, associate professor of biology, discovered that a laptop had been stolen from his office; and in the College of Liberal Arts, Cornelius Meyer, professor of psychology, discovered his laptop missing from his office.

John Twining, chief of security and safety, said that the laptop thefts were “under investigation” by campus security and the Hamden Police Department. He said the four Dell laptops stolen were university-owned machines. Twining reported the “very unusual” string of thefts carry “certain similarities” but said he “can’t comment on the actual event.” Although he would not say whether all of the faculty offices were locked, The Chronicle has received confirmation from four of the professors that their doors were locked.

The campus security investigation is being conducted “parallel” to that of the Hamden Police Department, Twining said. “We have a very good working relation with the Hamden police,” he said. “They do their thing, we do our thing and hopefully we will figure it out.” Twining estimates a “50/50 chance of the recovery of the laptops.”

“Laptops are very portable items,” Twining said, and so “prevention [of theft] is very important.” He suggested using a security cable to protect laptops as well as locking the machine in a desk or filing cabinet with the door locked and common sense applied. “If you see someone you don’t recognize, call security,” Twining said.

Lt. Richard Dunham of the Hamden Police Department was unable to comment on the investigation except to confirm that the department is “investigating.”

The rash of thefts is perplexing in nature. For instance, Karin Schwanbeck, assistant professor of journalism, shares an office with Diaz. Schwanbeck also had a laptop in the locked office, but it was left behind. Following the theft of Diaz’s Dell Latitude D600, Dr. David Donnelly, dean of the School of Communications, sent out an e-mail to faculty in the School of Communications on Thursday, Nov. 18, that included a security warning.

The thefts prompted Dean Donnelly to send an email warning to the faculty and staff of the School of Communications urging increased security and vigilance.

Unfortunately for the faculty who had offices in the McMahon Center, the theft from the locked office would not be the last. Late Saturday, Nov. 20, Dr. Grace Levine, professor of communications, left and locked her office, leaving her laptop behind. The following Monday, Angela Bird, secretary to the dean of the School of Communications, noticed that Levine’s door was “locked but ajar.” Upon further inspection, Bird realized a second theft had occurred in the School of Communications. However, the person(s) responsible left the laptop case and computer accessories seemingly untouched.

“We put so much of our lives in these machines…and to lose so much information that is not backed up is a real loss,” Donnelly said. He compared the loss of a faculty laptop to “losing your house in a fire; it’s just devastating.”

“I felt violated. I had family pictures on my computer that I can never get back,” Diaz said.

Donnelly said that the School of Communications and College of Liberal Arts purchased cable locks for all faculty with offices on campus, including those housed in the Faculty Office Building.

Although he is concerned, Donnelly said, “I still believe this is a fairly secure campus.”

“[We] really want to recover these [laptops.] This is a violation of people’s sense of security on this campus,” Charles Griffin, information security officer, said.

Griffin said the university typically loses “a couple” laptops each year but never has seen this many thefts in this short of a period. Computer Information Services is working “very closely” with security, according to Griffin.

Donald Buckley believes those responsible “needed to know something [about technology]” because while he had 12 computers in his office, only one of the 11 laptops were taken – the fastest Macintosh. Buckley’s laptop disappeared at some point over Thanksgiving recess but was only noticed last week after a faculty notice was sent out to faculty involved in campus technology.

Allison DeRosa, Summit editor-in-chief found the thefts unnerving. “It is upsetting someone is resorting to stealing professors’ laptops. It makes me nervous about my own organization’s equipment.”

DeRosa, however, is confident the person(s) responsible will be apprehended. “I think they’ll catch the person eventually because the pieces will come together over time,” she said.

Michael Radparvar, senior class president and student liason to the Information Technology Committee, said security measures taken by students can help avoid theft.

“Our school is extremely safe compared to other universities; it’s still really important to lock your door,” he said.

“I am hopeful [security] will capture the person and get to the bottom of it,” Donnelly said. “It’s not necessarily the machines that are important but what we put on them.”

Two years ago, a student stole a master key and proceeded to steal cash from various camps offices. That student was arrested after an investigation and charged with larceny. He allegedly obtained the key while working in the Admissions office.

According to an anonymous university official, “you have no idea how many keys are floating around this campus.”

As of press time, President John Lahey was unavailable for comment.

Anyone who witnesses any suspicious activity is urged to call security immediately at x6200.


About Jamie DeLoma