After political leaders and news organizations have received envelopes packed with anthrax, universities across the Ivy League are trying to ease students’ fears about bioterrorism as they remind students to be mindful of suspicious packages.
Administrators have collaborated with local authorities and created plans to handle possible bioterrorist attacks. These measures, according to some school administrators, are precautionary rather than reactionary.
Officials at Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard, Cornell and Columbia universities have established links on their home pages that provide information about anthrax and what to do when members of their communities receive suspicious mail. Many university health services are answering student questions and preparing for possible anthrax cases.
Ivy League administrators have also been speaking with local police and fire departments, outlining plans for possible bioterrorism.
Civil authorities “have sensibly cautioned that [students and administrators] be vigilant but not overreact,” Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers said in a letter to Harvard students this week.
Several Ivies have had reports of suspicious packages since the Sept. 11 attacks, including eight reports at Cornell.
“[But] students at Cornell are not fearful,” said Henrik Dullea, Cornell’s vice president for university relations. “We’ve provided them with information.”
Dullea added that although some students at the school in upstate New York are more concerned than others, there is “no campus panic.”
Officials at Columbia, which is in upper Manhattan, said their students are more afraid.
“It’s hard to say [whether students are overreacting],” said Virgil Renzulli, Columbia’s associate vice president of public affairs. “I think there have been some [reports of anthrax] that were totally unfounded.”
“There is a certain amount of overreaction,” Renzulli added. “We are trying to take every precaution.”
One Columbia student reported having received suspicious mail only later to discover that the bar-coded letter, which had no return address, was really from the mayor of Trenton, Renzulli said. The university has purchased kits to test for the presence of anthrax.
“Under the circumstances at the national level,” Dullea said, “I can understand why people are being sensitive.”