A day after Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller warned U.S. senators of possible terrorist attacks against universities, Yale administrators and professors acknowledged that Yale could be a prime target and said the University should consider the tip seriously.
Speaking before the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence Tuesday, Mueller said al-Qaida, hindered by tight security at prominent U.S. landmarks, may strike more vulnerable locations, including universities. Yale President Richard Levin said the University has extensive plans in place to cope with a possible terrorist attack.
“We certainly thought hard about this and have run through all kinds of possible scenarios and tried to make sure we are as well-prepared as we can be,” Levin said. “I’m sure if there were any direct threat implicating Yale we would have heard about it — and we did not.”
But School of Management professor Paul Bracken, who teaches “Studies in Grand Strategy,” said Yale could be a serious target nonetheless.
“I think if any university in this country should take this seriously, Yale should,” Bracken said. “[Terrorists] want to attack targets that are symbolic and highly painful — killing young Americans would be very painful.”
In addition to Yale’s instant name recognition, Bracken and other professors noted other reasons the University could be singled out as a target: the past three U.S. presidents graduated from Yale, and Barbara Bush ’04, the daughter of President George W. Bush ’68, is a student at Yale.
“Yale is a great target,” diplomat-in-residence Charles Hill said. “It’s a very soft target, a place everyone in the country recognizes instantly. [The threat] is not something to take lightly.”
However, Hill said he thinks the University’s plans adequately protect Yale faculty, staff and students.
“This university has one of the best security systems — maybe the best of any university in country,” Hill said.
Last year, officials from Yale, the city of New Haven and the state government collaborated to plan how each would cope with a terror-related emergency on the University’s campus, Levin said.
“There’s a periodic reassessment of plans,” he said
Bracken said he warned his son, a student at New York University, to avoid riding the subway during rush hour and to steer clear of national landmarks such as Grand Central Station. An attack on an educational institution would precipitate even stricter limitations on civil liberties, he said.
Attractive as Yale might be to terrorists, professors and students said they felt secure.
“The thought of a terrorist attack might scare me a little, but worrying about it won’t get me anywhere,” Ryan Trowbridge ’05 said. “I feel relatively safe.”
But Levin acknowledged the reality of today’s world.
“No one is entirely secure,” he said.