Harvey Graff

Note: My apologies for misspelling Chase Meola’s last name. No offense was intended. To other readers, I am not minimizing the very real crime problems. As a retired professor, University District homeowner, and critic of the institutions involved, I do not speak directly for students. I am advocating for a serious, sound, honest, and responsible set of crime reduction and safety policies and their enactment by Ohio State, the City, and Columbus Police Department (CPD). We have not seen that. 

On Friday, November 5, 2021, Ohio State further muddled the matters of campus and adjacent area crime and safety. Just before 10:00 am, the secretary of the so-far unknown “UDSC” emailed a list of homeowners, business owners, and landlords—with the recipients’ email addresses identified, a violation of privacy rights—to announce a Zoom meeting with the “University District Safety Team.” My sources in the OSU administration have never heard of this body. “We’d love to get your feedback on safety…. I do not have an agenda at this time.” I’ve written twice asking for identification, clarification, and statement of purpose. I have received no response. 

Later in the morning, President Kristina Johnson sent out another of her empty and misleading statements. This one is entitled “Announcing Buckeye Block Watch.” 

Johnson begins by repeating her erroneous claims that “Major crime remains down”—it was never up to any significant extent; it “fell’ by a tiny number of statistically insignificant cases. She claims that “Safety enhancements in the off-campus area are making an impact.” Of that there is no evidence, as I have shown. Her landmark lamp posts do as much harm as good; their placement makes no sense. The major crimes this past weekend fell well outside these PR efforts. 

She now touts the “Buckeye Block Watch,” which had not yet begun. She does not explain who they are or their numbers. But her statement of their hours of operation implies directly that OSU is only concerned about crime on Wednesday through Saturday and from 7:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. Neither OSU nor its unexplained “Block Watch” thinks that crime occurs outside the hours that they have defined. This makes absolutely no sense. Crime does not occur on OSU time. And it is a public invitation to those seeking to commit crimes. 

The confusing statement that these Watchers “will act as eyes and ears for safety” but they “are not sworn law enforcement and will not have arrest powers or carry firearms” makes no more sense. Their purpose is unclear as is their relationship to the listed OSU Police Division, CPD, and “the non-sworn security patrols . . . using Campus Service Officers or private security firms.” None of this is explained. The private security forces have never been identified or their responsibilities explained. All the evidence suggests that none of this can be explained because no one at OSU knows the answers. This is precisely why I define the situation as a “leadership crisis” and not a “crime crisis.” 

Worst of all to this long-time University District homeowner and retired OSU professor is the utterly fallacious statement: “This initiative encourages residents to play a role in getting to know one another and look out for each other. Buckeye Block Watch reinforces that the University District is our neighborhood, a place where we take care of each other and are together a community.” 

I reiterate the inescapable fact that Ohio State has never taken responsibility for its neighboring University District. It has never acted as one “neighborhood, a place where we take care of each other and are together a community.” This is a myth demanding rejection. 

To the best of my knowledge, Gordon Gee is the last Ohio State President to set foot in the area. Johnson mentions a neighborhood “meet and greet” on Friday, Nov. 5. It was not well attended, and the President (who resides in the President’s house in Bexley, not even in Columbus or in the vicinity of the campus), the Vice President for Student Life, and the Director of Campus Safety were conspicuously absent.  


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History and Ohio Eminent Scholar at The Ohio State University. He is the author of many books on social history including The Literacy Myth and The Dallas Myth. His specialties include the history and present condition of literacy and education including higher education, children and families, cities, interdisciplinarity, and contemporary politics, culture, and society.