Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Virginia Tech cited the “Black Swan” concept in defense of itself following the Department of Education’s findings that it violated federal law—the Cleary Act—on the morning of April 16, 2007, by not warning students, faculty, and staff of an imminent threat.

I have now read Nassim Taleb’s “The Black Swan” and nothing could be further from the truth. The school’s use of the “Black Swan” defense is tantamount to intellectual dishonesty. What a shame that a great academic institution stooping to such duplicitous measures. The school’s willingness to distort the “Black Swan” is yet another indication of how bankrupt its position is. In fact, Tech’s willingness to distort the “Black Swan” as it desperately grasps for excuses only underscores the indefensible actions of the Steger administration.

If you read Taleb’s book, he says that a “Black Swan” event has several characteristics. First and foremost is that nothing in the past can point to its possibility. Here he cites a turkey that is fed lots of food for months on end, and then a few weeks before Thanksgiving, the farmer cuts off his head. For the turkey, nothing pointed to its imminent demise—the head-lopping was a total surprise; it was a “Black Swan.”

Was that true in the case of Cho and Virginia Tech? I don’t think so. Do I really have to repeat all the warning signs? How many times does the Steger administration have to be reminded that an English professor threatened to resign unless Cho was removed from her class? She feared for the lives of her students and herself. Does the school really have to be told again that a judge ruled that Cho was an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness? Has the school forgotten that Cho’s behavior toward women got him into trouble with campus police? Circuit Court Judge Alexander has ruled that there is ample evidence of negligence on the part of school President Steger and others—enough evidence for a lawsuit to go forward against them. I could go on and on.

The school neglects to tell the reader that Taleb also says that “some events can be rare and consequential, but somewhat predictable, particularly to those who are prepared for them and have the tools to understand them… .” Taleb calls these events “near Black Swans.” The events of April 16, 2007, appear to fall into that category. I would remind Virginia Tech that just because something is unlikely, does not mean that it is not predictable. There was ample evidence that Cho might harm himself or others and the school found every excuse it could to avoid confronting those indications and doing something about them.

No matter how much the Steger administration twists and turns, the facts are the facts. The school’s inaction before the tragedy of April 16, 2007, makes the Steger administration liable for the murders that terrible day.