W&L Public Safety director leaves after over nine years of service, remembers strong campus ties

Ethan Kipnes said W&L taught him the importance of fostering community relationships and being open-minded

Kipnes is accepting a campus safety position at a college in Rhode Island to be closer to family and friends.

Courtesy of Ethan Kipnes

Kipnes is accepting a campus safety position at a college in Rhode Island to be closer to family and friends.

Bri Hatch, Editor-in-Chief

Director of Public Safety Ethan Kipnes will be leaving his role at the end of December for a new campus safety position in Rhode Island. 

Kipnes, who has served as director of Washington and Lee security for nine-and-a-half years, announced his departure on Nov. 29, two days before an anonymous bomb threat on YikYak forced local law enforcement and Public Safety to evacuate Elrod Commons. 

Kipnes said he made his decision “with an incredible amount of mixed emotions.” But accepting a job as the Standards and Training Captain at Rhode Island School of Design will allow him to find a better work-life balance and return home, he said. 

“As adults, we’re always evaluating sort of where we are in life, and evaluating our level of happiness, and what’s making us happy, what maybe isn’t making us happy.” Kipnes said. “Pretty much all of my family and longtime friends are still back home in the New England area. As I get older, as family gets older, life priorities change.”

Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs Drewry Sackett said a search committee has been created to find a new director. Associate Director of Public Safety Daniel “Mac” Testerman will take over as interim director in the meantime. 

“Ethan has done a great job as W&L’s director of public safety and we’ll miss him here on campus but wish him all the best in his new role,” Sackett wrote in an email. 

Since Kipnes joined the university as Public Safety director in August 2013, the role of ensuring security on college campuses has evolved, he said. Before, “campus security was really looked at as ‘well, they just unlock buildings and lock buildings, and they’re kind of around,’” Kipnes said. 

Now, public safety has become more professionalized. 

“It’s never something that you can sort of push back from your desk, put your feet up and say, ‘we’re done, we’ve accomplished everything we need to accomplish,’” Kipnes said. “There’s always progress to be made. The world is going to continue to change, and we need to change with it.”

Now, Kipnes said, communities are much more vocal about the services they are looking for from campus safety officials. It’s important to stay open-minded to those suggestions, he said. 

“Your community is oftentimes going to give you a pretty good indication of what they’re looking for, what their expectations are,” Kipnes said. “It’s important to have those strong relationships and partnerships within the community, not only to be able to hear those things and understand them, but figure out ways to implement them.”

Kipnes said a main focus for him at Washington and Lee has been fostering good relationships with students. 

“We really look at ourselves as a service-oriented department,” he said. “Our goal is to have connection points as much as possible across campus.”

 One group he works closely with is Residence Life, Kipnes said. Public Safety partners with students who serve as residence advisors for training at the beginning of the year, and throughout the year as situations arise. 

Director of Residence Life Chris Reid said Public Safety keeps Residence Life running, by responding to both simple lockouts and larger emergencies. 

“The partnership between Public Safety and Residence Life is crucial for ensuring that campus is safe, and that students receive the support they need,” Reid wrote in an emailed statement. “Ethan understands just how important that partnership is.”

Kipnes went to Northeastern University as an undergraduate for criminal justice. It was the only place he applied. After graduation, he worked in traditional law enforcement for five years at a small police department in Vermont. 

“It wasn’t that I didn’t like the traditional law enforcement role,” Kipnes said. “But in the time that I was there, I was feeling like maybe there’s something slightly better suited for me, still in the safety, criminal justice realm.”

He stumbled upon an opportunity to run campus safety at a small Vermont college. 

“I very quickly realized that that was kind of my career niche,” Kipnes said. 

He worked at a couple other colleges in the New England area before coming to Washington and Lee. But Kipnes said the level of resources available here are much greater than at those other institutions.

Kipnes said this can make his job easier to some degree. But it also causes Washington and Lee students to have high security expectations, especially because of the Honor System and safety in the surrounding community. 

“It creates a mentality that we are at a very high level of safety and security, which we are. But I think at the same time, there needs to be a balance of, all of that just doesn’t come naturally based on those things,” Kipnes said. “It’s a combination of those things, plus some of the things that Public Safety needs to be doing to ensure the continued safety and security of the campus community.” 

And while Kipnes sees Washington and Lee’s engaged and connected community as a positive factor, he also finds it challenging. 

“It forces you to make sure that you are doing the best you can at all times, by people asking questions, and being curious about how things are run and how things are managed.”