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Officials at many colleges and universities in Tennessee this semester have found faster and better ways to communicate with their students in emergency situations.

The upgrades range from text-messaging notification systems that can alert thousands of people almost instantly to public address systems and television monitors in campus buildings that can disseminate information.

While the improvements already were being made at some area campuses, officials said April's shooting rampage at Virginia Tech that left 32 people dead expedited their progress.
Officials at many colleges and universities in Tennessee this semester have found faster and better ways to communicate with their students in emergency situations.

The upgrades range from text-messaging notification systems that can alert thousands of people almost instantly to public address systems and television monitors in campus buildings that can disseminate information.

While the improvements already were being made at some area campuses, officials said April's shooting rampage at Virginia Tech that left 32 people dead expedited their progress.

Kevin Penrod, director of campus safety at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, near Chattanooga, said the campus is in the final stages of having a wireless phone notification system in place and also is retooling an outdoor tornado siren to broadcast recorded messages in emergency situations.

Bryan College in Dayton has a new emergency communication system in place that will allow administrators to make one call to contact the 900 students, faculty and staff on campus via wireless phone, landline phone, text message, e-mail, personal digital assistants or pagers.

The University of Tennessee in Knoxville has a new emergency text-messaging system that students, faculty and staff have the option of signing up for, spokesman Jay Mayfield said.

No cost is passed on to users except those charged by their phone providers for text-messaging services, Mayfield said. (Chattanooga Times Free Press, Sept. 4, 2007)

The woman who sued the state nearly 40 years ago for creating a segregated higher education system is now in charge of boosting diversity at its flagship school.

Rita Sanders Geier, 63, spent part of her first day recently at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville moving into her new office and explaining her passion for helping the school that landed at the center of the legal battle.

Geier, who moved to Knoxville from Maryland for the job, will work as an associate to UT-Knoxville Chancellor Loren Crabtree. She also will be a senior fellow at the school's Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, specializing in health care disparities.

Her position pays $130,000 annually.

After UT announced plans to start a Nashville campus, Geier, a 23-year-old teacher at Tennessee State University in 1968, was afraid the new branch would attract white students and faculty away from TSU.

Geier's lawsuit essentially demanded equality and diversity at state colleges, a cause, she says, that still drives her today.

"It's our only hope for the future, to become a strong society with everybody in the mainstream and nobody left behind," Geier said last week.

The lawsuit remained in courts until last year. In 2001, the state agreed to a consent decree named after Geier, which funneled $77 million in state funds to help diversify student and faculty populations at Tennessee's public universities. (The Tennessean, Sept. 5, 2007)

After a slow start early last week, students have begun to trickle in at Tennessee public universities, raising enrollment numbers slightly beyond last year's figures.

Tennessee State University began Aug. 27 with around 500 fewer students than the first day last year, but by the end of the week, the student body had grown to 9,203 students, about 70 more than last year.

School officials warn that enrollment fluctuates during the first two weeks of classes, because some students register late and others drop out.

Some Tennessee Board of Regents schools are using new registration software this year, meaning their numbers could vary widely, board spokeswoman Mary Morgan said.

At Middle Tennessee State University, Associate Vice President Sherian Huddleston said attendance would probably settle around 23,000 students.
Last fall, enrollment was around 22,800.

"We're trying to maintain an increase of no more than 1 to 2 percent per year," Huddleston said. (The Tennessean, Sept. 3, 2007)