Thursday, April 19, 2007

Vulnerability in the Classroom-2

My earlier post.

This issue has taken off in academic circles. Engineering professor Barbara Oakley writes an op-ed in the New York Times, ending with

In other words, most of the broad social “lessons” we are being told we must learn from the Virginia Tech shootings have little to do with what allowed the horrors to occur. This is about evil, and about how our universities are able to deal with it as a literary subject but not as a fact of life. Can administrators and deans really continue to leave professors and other college personnel to deal with deeply disturbed students on their own, with only pencils in their defense?

Law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh asks questions about self defense:

What, though, is the argument against allowing professors and other university staff to possess weapons, if they choose? (Assume the professors lack criminal records, and assume they go through whatever testing and modest training is required to get a concealed carry permit, or perhaps even some extra training.) One argument is that it's just dangerous for law-abiding citizens to have weapons, because they'll start shooting over arguments or fender-benders. But that's precisely the argument that has been rejected by the 38 states that allow any law-abiding citizen to get a concealed carry license (or, in 2 of the 38 states, to carry without a license).

I've also heard some arguments that suggest universities are different because they are places for reasoning, not violence: They should be gun-free zones (except of course for university police officers and security guards, who for some reason don't count) because that's needed to create the proper climate of peaceful inquiry. But the sad fact is that you can't make a university into a gun-free zone. Mad killers can bring guns, and use them, regardless of what policies you announce.

The Combat Philosopher fears that administrations will just implement heavy-handed "security" measures:

It is also quite likely that there will be new provisions made, in a bid by the administration to enhance campus security. In all likelihood, these provisions will be burdensome and work against the free flow of people and ideas that makes campus life vibrant. Would you be inclined to return to your office, or lab of an evening if you had to run a gauntlet of security?

On my campus, the new director of counseling (not the person I mentioned earlier) writes a campus-wide email:

If you encounter a person who you believe to be a risk to you or someone else and wish to discuss your concern with someone at the Student Counseling Center, we will help you evaluate the level of threat.

That is fine, but the problem is the conflict between student privacy laws and warning the instructor. If I have a deaf student, for instance, he or she will show up with a letter from the Disability Center explaining his or her needs, such as an interpretor. But no one tells you if you have a mentally disturbed student in your class--or what to do about it. You are left to figure it out on your own. In a big class, you might never know.

What usually happens is described by The Phantom Professor:

It's a common strategy for dealing with troubled and troubling students: Just get 'em through the department. Do whatever it takes, but don't cause problems or invite legal hassles by leaning too hard on him. Is he still paying his tuition? Then just deal with it. He'll be gone next year. Shut up and deal with it.



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