Meet Our Chief Safety Officer

Chief Safety Officer Marlon Lynch

On the "U Rising" podcast, President Ruth V. Watkins engages in insightful conversations with students, staff, faculty, alumni and community stakeholders who are at the center of the state's flagship research university. President Watkins also connects with other leaders to give listeners a fresh take on top issues and innovations in higher education in Utah and across the country. You can subscribe to U Rising via iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and other podcast streaming services.

Marlon Lynch is the University of Utah’s new chief safety officer—a first not only for the university, but for higher education in Utah. Marlon brings decades of experience in campus safety to his new role at the U. Learn how Marlon is shaping priorities and his plans for engaging with students, our campus and the broader community. Recorded on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Music by Taylor Hartley. Thanks to Andrea Smardon, Paul Gabrielsen, Brooke Adams and Dave White for technical assistance.

Ruth Watkins: Welcome to the U Rising podcast where you get to learn about the people who are helping us achieve great things at the University of Utah. My name's Ruth Watkins. I'm the president of the university. My guest today is Marlon Lynch. Marlon is our new chief safety officer. So Marlon, warmest welcome to the University of Utah. It would be helpful if you would speak a little bit about your background and the experience you've had leading up to this chief safety officer role.

Marlon Lynch: Yes, this is my 28th year in public safety. Four of those years were in municipal policing, and the remaining 24 have been in higher ed. Prior to coming here to the University of Utah, I was most recently at New York University. That role was very similar to this, but NYU has a global footprint, and so we had campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, as well as global academic centers on six continents.

Marlon Lynch: I also worked at the University of Chicago for eight years, which is also my hometown of Chicago. And prior to that, Vanderbilt University, and so that gave me my initial experience of working in both the university and medical center as well as division one athletics.

Ruth Watkins: Great. Well, we are so pleased you're here with us and bringing that expertise to the University of Utah. The U's Presidential Task Force on Safety, and campus safety in particular, recommended that we create a position of a chief safety officer. We've learned that that recommendation came from the fact that other leading research universities have started to create chief safety officer positions, a few anyway, not a lot. So maybe you could tell us a little bit about what a chief safety officer does, what the role is about, and what you sort of see as the big priorities for this position?

Marlon Lynch: Sure. The chief safety officer is usually charged with being a senior leader within an institution that has experience either in policing or some form of public safety and would have the opportunity to be an expert, a certain level of expertise with the senior leadership team for the university.

Marlon Lynch: Much in the case of there's usually a chief financial officer or chief information officer, the format and the philosophy is the same. Is that this is someone who has a wide variety of experiences in the relevant field, but that can also serve as a liaison between those functions and senior leadership as well as external agencies.

Ruth Watkins: You are a very experienced individual, and I would imagine that experience helps inform the priorities that you consider for the University of Utah. Tell us a little bit about the priorities that you have, about how you're beginning to engage with students and with community members.

Marlon Lynch: Priorities, there are several, and I think it's important to underscore that there will be parallel processes. There will be things that we will implement immediately, and there'll be some that may be a little long term.

Marlon Lynch: But what I see as definitely as a top priority would be the engagement of the Department of Public Safety with the community, both the university as well as the health sciences and medical center, and then the external community as well. So much so that I have begun meetings with student leadership as well as the Salt Lake City Police Department. I had an opportunity to attend a meeting that included all of the law enforcement for Salt Lake County last week as well, so that has sort of jump-started the process.

Marlon Lynch: Another priority would be transparency, creating opportunities to where our community are actively involved in our various initiatives. An example of that would be a public safety advisory committee and a representation would hopefully come from the academic senate, the ASUU, the staff council, and then would like to have input as well from the President's Leadership Council for those members that would be represented on that advisory council. That would meet regularly, and they would be directly involved in knowing exactly how the Department of Public Safety operates, policies, initiatives, and all of that.

Ruth Watkins: Thank you so much. I believe that our community would warmly welcome that. We have certainly heard from our students that they see a role for themselves in being involved in advising and assisting. In what ways in the past have you engaged with students as you've thought about safety on campus, and how have student voices helped you shape a safety agenda?

Marlon Lynch: The advisor committee is one way, but I also think there's a value in being informal in the student relationship, and that's being where they are. I have spent time in the Union. I have attended athletic events already and run into some of our students in that manner. But I think what really helps me is the fact that as an undergraduate, I was a resident assistant. I was very active in Greek life as well. And I had a couple of roommates that were athletes. And so I fully enjoyed and experienced college life in that manner. And so it's important to have that formal interaction maybe through committee and things like that, but the informal in establishing that type of relationship is just as important.

Ruth Watkins: That's incredibly helpful. Maybe tell us a little bit about how you would see the chief safety officer integrating some of the various functions of safety as you interface with both internal and external communities.

Marlon Lynch: Yeah, there are actually plenty of opportunities in an environment such as this, especially one that's decentralized. An institution that has both the university as well as a medical center, those lines can easily be blurred. But in a setting to where we actually share the same geographical footprint, it's really important to have a centralized function that can operate both within the university setting and in the healthcare setting with that.

Marlon Lynch: In regards to external components, it will allow the police chief to function and operate on a day-to-day basis in regards to what that operation looks like and how those interoperable opportunities are with local police and state and federal agencies. But specifically with the chief safety officer, it allows for a higher level of interaction regarding policy, opportunities to look for opportunities outside of the day-to-day, just being more strategic overall.

Ruth Watkins: Yes, that's helpful and very informative. Certainly as you note, this is a big and complex institution, can you tell us a little bit about how you would envision interacting with our campus and community, particularly with our students?

Marlon Lynch: Yeah, so this is day six for me, or seven, with that six because we had the university cancellation on my first day, but it's very important to interact with the students. And not just student leaders because the voice, although the student leaders are very well in tune, those are the ones that are more accustomed and comfortable with senior administrators. The ones that may not have the leadership roles, you have to go and seek them for that.

Marlon Lynch: So meeting with the students on a regular basis, being very accessible, and then also meeting with my colleagues. I have to learn not only the culture here, but actually how the university functions. And in my role, that is going to be critical to my assessment in regards to how I insert myself within the current structure and the day-to-day of the institution knowing that usually there's a reason why, not making an assumption, and finding out why prior to acting.

Ruth Watkins: Speaking of meeting with people, I've heard that even in this first week you've spent time meeting with students and with others around our community. What are you hearing as far as main concerns about safety?

Marlon Lynch: Safety is on everyone's mind, which for me, I think is a great opportunity. I usually leave them with an ask. In the end the ask is to help, and that help comes in many forms, not just openly stating that you don't feel safe, but helping us define what safe is, actively participating in the initiatives and the solutions that'll be put forward, but most of all, recognizing that it's a shared responsibility, and that we all are in this community, and that we all have a piece of helping the entire community becoming safe.

Ruth Watkins: Those voices will be very important as we go forward. Have you heard anything surprising so far in your one week on the job?

Marlon Lynch: Nothing really, truly surprising. I think what I had not realized is that this is primarily, or has been traditionally, more of a commuter college. And although I'm aware that there's a new residence hall opening this summer, I did not realize the impact that it would have in the transition from going from a commuter, primarily a commuter campus, to a residential campus. And that does definitely have an impact on safety, but that's what planning is for, that's what working together will help facilitate how those changes and that transition occurs.

Ruth Watkins: Yes, I agree. It's great that you're hearing that from our community. This has been a gradual process as housing on campus has expanded, and of course, in July 2020 we're about to open a very large residence hall, really focused on first year students called the Kahlert Village with the thematic towers. It's a very significant investment and advancement for our campus. And I think very helpful that you're thinking about how safety will be an important part of that new residence hall. Any particular things that come to mind when you think about living on campus and how that influences safety in our institution?

Marlon Lynch: I think actually the more populated the campus is, the safer that it can become. I think that the numbers and the activity will help along with that. We'll definitely need to partner with our colleagues in Student Affairs, specifically within housing, in regards to policy, what security systems could be put in place, how we just operate as a whole. And I know how that particular residence hall has been described to me as a living learning environment, and I think that's a great opportunity for the Department of Public Safety to be a part of that educational process as well with the housing staff.

Ruth Watkins: That's excellent. Well, one of the things I know you've done is participate in the Utah System of Higher Education Student Safety Summit, which was even before you were officially on the job here at the university. Any takeaways from that panel that you participated in? Any insights that you learned about our community or the state of Utah that might be helpful as we go forward with a focus on campus safety?

Marlon Lynch: Yeah, it confirmed what I thought was that both the University of Utah as well as the state takes safety as a top priority. Being able to convene that forum at this particular time was extremely important, and I felt that it would be important that I attend as well for several reasons. One, I'm committed to the role, but then also to see who I would be working with across the system as well. Most issues that occur on a college campus usually are not new, and they are not isolated. And so it's important to be able to establish relationships, to share information, and learn about practices that are currently in place. But also, it will inform me regarding the, the culture of the system as well.

Ruth Watkins: Well, I certainly agree. I know that you will have many partners in this endeavor to enhance safety on our campus and a lot of stakeholders whose voices will be important as you shape your agenda. I would want you to know that the institution is with you fully in this effort, and there are many, many who want to join you to see the University of Utah be the safest campus it can possibly be. So thanks so much for joining us at the University of Utah. We are really glad you're here.

Marlon Lynch: Thank you.

Ruth Watkins: And to all our listeners, thank you for listening to the U Rising podcast. We look forward to introducing you to more leaders at the University of Utah in the future.