Virginia Tech is refusing to release the initial findings of the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation into the April 16, 2007 shootings. At the heart of the issue is whether or not Tech violated a federal law on the morning of the shootings by not issuing a warning to the campus following the double homicide at Ambler West Johnston Hall.
The law in question is the Clery Act, named for Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered. Clery’s parents found out that students had not been warned about 38 violent crimes on the Lehigh campus in the three year’s before their daughter’s murder, and helped persuade congress to pass a law making it mandatory to warn students of violent crimes on campus grounds. Violation of the Clery Act could result in a loss of federal funds for the school.
School spokesperson, Larry Hinckler, is quoted in the school’s newspaper, The Collegiate Times, as saying the school received the initial findings from the Department of Education a few weeks ago, but will not release them. The school is claiming an exception under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Collegiate Times indicated the school is justifying its position by citing exceptions granted to “working papers and correspondence of the Office of the Governor; Lieutenant Governor; the Attorney General; the members of the General Assembly or the Division of Legislative Services; the mayor or chief of any political subdivision of the Commonwealth; or the president or other chief executive officer of any public institution of higher education in Virginia.” Working papers are defined as “those records prepared by or for an above-mentioned public official for his personal or deliberative use.”
However, an email to The Collegiate Times from Megan Rhyne, a Virginia Coalition for Open Government representative, points out that the initial findings might not qualify as a working paper because Tech did not commission the investigation. She goes on to say, “If the university asked for it, then, yes, for as long as the president uses the report to craft future statements/policies’ responses, then it is and remains a working paper.” But, “if the study was initiated independently of the university and the president has been given an advanced copy as a courtesy, then it seems the ‘prepared by or for’ language does not apply.”
You have to ask, “What is Virginia Tech trying to hide? What is the university covering-up?” Tech’s refusal to release the findings comes on the heels of efforts by members of the school hierarchy to silence one of the most candid forums in examining the April 16, 2007 tragedy, the school newspaper—The Collegiate Times.
In mid-February, the Commission on Student Affairs threatened to cancel the contract with the Education Medial Company of Virginia Tech, the parent company of The Collegiate Times, and cut off funding to the paper. (See bog dated March 10, 2010) The Commission cited the newspaper’s policy of allowing anonymous comments on its blog, saying some of the comments had offended some students, staff, and faculty members. The Commission has absolutely no authority to take such action—the threat had to be a warning to the paper’s editorial staff; a warning to stop its investigative journalism.
The Commission’s threat was clearly a violation of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing freedom of speech. The threat also was a violation of the school’s “Principles of Community” which guarantee freedom of speech.
When you step back and look at the action’s of the Virginia Tech administration, you can come to no other conclusion than the Steger administration is running scared and will spare no effort to cover-up its actions (or inactions) dealing with events surrounding the April 16, 2007 mass killings. If the school has nothing to hide, why not release the Department of Education’s findings; if The Collegiate Times is wrong, write rebuttals to set the record straight.
The administration of school President Charles Steger flunked crisis management badly on April 16, 2007. And more and more, Virginia Tech’s actions with regard to the shootings are exposing the disgraceful and amoral character of the school’s leadership.