The University of Maryland's slogan is "Unstoppable Starts Here," emphasizing the school's rise as a major research university. If administrators have their way, "Unstoppable" will also refer to the Purple Line, which wouldn't serve the campus late at night.
One of three proposed Purple Line stations at the University of Maryland. Image courtesy of the MTA.
College Park Patch reports that university officials worry the Purple Line will bring crime, so they would prefer that trains not stop after 10 pm at the three proposed stations on campus. If the Purple Line does serve the campus during late night hours, the university would like to set up checkpoints at each of the stops.
Marc Limansky, a spokesperson for the University of Maryland Police Department says they would ensure that transit riders "have business on campus." Though drivers entering the campus after 11 pm currently have to pass through one of three checkpoints, they don't apply to pedestrians, bicyclists, or anyone taking the Metrobus or UM Shuttle.
"The campus has porous borders," Carlo Colella, Vice President for Facilities Management, was quoted as saying. "If someone intended to gain access with the Purple Line, we now have that risk."
The real risk, however, is suffocating university life. The University of Maryland's reputation is improving in no small part because of evening activities, and they should be making it as easy as possible for the university community and visitors alike to take part in them.
Ending Purple Line service at 10pm prevents students, faculty, staff and visitors from participating in everything the school has to offer. It would also serve as an informal curfew on resident students who want to leave the campus. Most importantly, it would make the entire Purple Line less useful.
Most of Maryland's 35,000 undergraduate and graduate students live off-campus, but they're often at school late at night. There are classes that end after 10 pm. If they're not in night classes, students might be working late in a science lab, in an art or architecture studio, or at one of the university's 8 libraries, all of which are open until 10 pm most nights.
Students might be attending an extracurricular activity held by one of the university's hundreds of student groups. When I was an undergrad, I was in an a cappella group that held rehearsals until 10 pm or later twice a week, and we had several members who commuted.
Some students living on campus could take the Purple Line to hang out in Silver Spring or Bethesda, or even head to D.C. via the Metro. (I'll admit that most of my friends at Maryland rarely ever left College Park, but I like to think it's because there wasn't a Purple Line yet.) Others may use it to commute to late-night jobs off-campus. When I worked at a store in Rockville during college, I regularly got off work after 10 pm.
The university's 11,000 faculty and staff are not strangers to working long hours either, whether it's conducting world-renowned research or keeping the university safe, clean and orderly.
Those not affilated with the university also have reasons to be on campus at night. Most of this season's performances at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center start at 7:30 or 8 pm, meaning they'll probably let out close to or after 10 pm. There are also evening athletic events, like football and basketball games, that end after 10 pm.
The Purple Line will support all of these activities at Maryland, if the administration doesn't get in the way. It will also help connect the university community to internship and job opportunities, to other universities, and to everything else that Greater Washington offers, making the University of Maryland stronger and more competitive.
Crime will be an issue at any school in a large metropolitan area, but it shouldn't be the tail wagging the dog. University officials must fully embrace the surrounding community and recognize that the school's students, faculty and staff, and visitors need to be able to easily enter and leave campus. Besides, College Park is already served by the Metro, which closes at 12 am during the week and 3 am on weekends. Twelve bus routes also serve the campus, some of which run after 10 pm. Shutting Purple Line stations early or requiring checkpoints would just be an inconvenience, not a crime deterrent.
Four decades ago, then-president Wilson Homer Elkins worried the College Park Metro station would bring "undesirable elements" to campus, resulting in its location a mile from the university. Until recently, the administration also tried to keep the Purple Line from running through campus as well. We can't make that mistake again.
If the University of Maryland wants to be taken seriously as a research institution, it should rely on facts, not fear. The administration should consider the needs of students, faculty, staff and visitors who come to campus at night, and put aside their unfounded concerns about the Purple Line bringing criminals to College Park.