Gates Announces Changes to University Apartments Operations

By: Carly Kennelly
By: Carly Kennelly

A 21 page report is out in the public. It recommends changes in how Texas A&M University manages on-campus apartments.

After July's deadly apartment explosion that killed two and left two others injured, University President Dr. Robert Gates assigned a task force to investigate and issue the report. Thursday he released the information at a press conference.

A gas leak that maintenance crews were too late to fix, resulted in the firey explosion. Little was known about what factors contributed to the hazardous conditions, until now.

The task force report points out inadequate training and understanding of safety procedures and natural gas. Not to mention the failure to pay attention to warning signals.

"I take this tragedy and the factors that contributed to it most seriously. I'm prepared to take all steps necessary to ensure that everyone at this university has a safe and healthy environment in which to work, live, and learn," said Gates.

Effective immediately, there will be changes in organizational, procedural and personnel matters. A few of those changes include giving the division of Student Affairs sole responsibility of on-campus apartments. A review must be done on maintenance, health and safety training. There will also be a review of procedures for establishing work priorities.

Nothing has happened to the people held accountable for the explosion, but Gates said the university will take action of some kind.

"We are looking at a range of disciplinary measures that go from a reprimand to dismissal from the university's employment," said Gates.

Task force member and apartment resident Rahul Ribeiro said maintenance clearly overlooked the urgency of the situation and the cost was two lives.

"Some serious action ought to be taken, but exactly what I'm not the right person to judge," said Ribeiro.

Gates said a dozen people know of the allegations against them and they have 10 business days to respond before disciplinary actions take affect.

The District Attorney's office is still conducting a criminal investigation, but will not estimate when that might be finished.

The following was released by the Texas A&M University:

Sweeping changes in how Texas A&M University conducts its University Apartments operations were announced Thursday by Texas A&M President Robert M. Gates in the wake of a fatal explosion and fire at the university-owned apartment complex last summer.

The changes ordered by Gates were based in large part on the
findings of a task force that he appointed in August to examine and make recommendations regarding management, organizational and
communications issues within the university administration, particularly as they affect operation of the University Apartments complex and, more broadly, campus housing generally.

Gates formed the task force shortly after the July 31 tragedy that resulted in the deaths of the daughter and mother of a graduate student from Bangladesh and serious injury to his wife, who is also a graduate student, and his father. The parents of the doctoral engineering student, Saquib Ejaz, were visiting the student couple at the time of the accident.

In his 13-point statement responding to the task force's 21-page report, Gates focused on organizational, procedural and personnel matters intended to guard against any such tragedy again happening on campus and addressed related issues identified by the task force.

"Two people were severely injured and a wonderful little girl and her beloved grandmother died. As the decisions I have described suggest, I take this tragedy and the factors which contributed to it most eriously," Gates said. "I am prepared to take all steps necessary to ensure that everyone at this great university has a safe and healthy environment in which to work, live and learn."

The Texas A&M president said disciplinary actions are being onsidered with respect to a number of individuals as the result of investigations conducted internally and by the Office of the Texas State Fire Marshal. He said the affected individuals have been informed and are being given an opportunity to respond.

Key points of Gates' orders for revised campus-housing operations
include the following actions, some of which have already been
implemented:

--Make the Division of Student Affairs, through the Department of Residence Life, solely and fully responsible for all aspects of the University Apartments, rectifying a situation in which several campus entities had some responsibility for operations there

--Broaden the responsibility and authority of the Environmental Health and Safety Department to encompass all matters throughout the university pertaining to safety and risk management

--Undertake a systematic and thorough review of training and development activities in the context of maintenance, health and safety

--Develop a set of standards and guidelines for management of the university's gas delivery system, with the recommended standards and guidelines to be submitted by March 1

--Have the recently created University Risk and Compliance Office continue and complete its comprehensive and campus-wide risk assessment initiative to identify all areas of defined and a manageable risk

--Have the Division of Administration and the Physical Plant Department review procedures for establishing work priorities and, when necessary, outsourcing to independent contractors

--Have the vice president for student affairs and the director of environmental health and safety examine the need for a campus housing safety office and make a recommendation by March 1

--Ensure that no student employee will be allowed to perform duties requiring specialized knowledge and training unless relevant formal training has been completed and documented

--Have the vice president for administration and the vice president for student affairs evaluate the allocation of staff resources across different management and maintenance functions and improve communications and reporting between all levels of management

--Have the Department of Residence Life implement a comprehensive formal orientation program for all new University Apartments residents, including instructions regarding proper use of various systems and equipment in the apartments and clear directions for reporting items in need of repair and safety concerns, with those directions posted in each apartment

--Continue to enhance already initiated efforts to improve the understanding and resolution of relevant international student concerns

--Have the newly appointed University Apartments Customer Service and Communications Review Team, which had been put on hold pending completion of the task force's report, proceed with its assigned tasks in consultation and collaboration with other appropriate university entities

--Have the Department of Human Resources revise the university rule regarding annual staff performance reviews as they relate to reporting employee deficiencies within a supervisor's area of responsibility to the next higher supervisory level


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