Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Randall is Wrong

On December 26, 2010, the Roanoke Times ran a blog by a retired Professor from Virginia Tech saying that Tech did not violate the Clery Act. The following is my response to him:

Randall is Wrong

Professor Clifford Randall’s contention that Virginia Tech did not violate the Clery Act is just flat out wrong. His words are an annoying combination of arrogance, self-delusion, incorrect facts, and omissions of critical information.

For Professor Randall to imply that the victims’ families have anything but the best of motives in trying to get at the truth is indicative of just how shallow and superficial an individual he is. Does he really think that $100,000.00 makes up for the loss of a son, daughter, or spouse? Having been there personally, I know that it is absolutely critical to the recovery and healing process to have complete openness and honesty about what happened. I know what it is to have a granddaughter who is psychologically damaged from a school shooting. She was seven when her mother was gunned down; I know what it is to have a son turn to alcohol because he blames himself for not being there to protect Angie. I know what it is like to find that son an emotional wreck and living in squalor in Baltimore. Professor Randall, do not lecture any of the victims’ families over their actions following these school shootings—you do not have that right. I don’t care if you have lost hundreds of friends. For you to imply that the loss of a friend is the same as child is both na├»ve and absurd.

You, Professor Randall, are the one who is misguided and ill informed. You are the one whose motives need to be looked into, not the families. I would argue that the school’s repeated failure to be candid and honest made the families’ legal actions necessary. I would argue that you were part of the Steger clique and your motive is to protect your buddies, not get at the truth. If Virginia’s schools are ever to be made safe, we have to have a complete and honest analysis of what happened—the Department of Education’s findings are part of that honesty. How can you possibly oppose that?

Professor Randall, if you look at the two school shootings here in Virginia you will see parallels in the profiles of the killers, parallels in the schools’ ignoring warning signs, and parallels in incompetent responses by people in positions of authority on the days of the shootings. At some point these incompetents need to be held accountable. It is my contention, that the cover-up that took place at the Appalachian School of Law made a Virginia Tech-type shooting inevitable. To cover up any aspect of what happened on April 16, 2007, lays the groundwork for future campus shootings. So yes, the families do hope that their actions will save lives. It is a mystery to me how any college professor can miss that point.

Randall states that the purpose of the Clery Act is “to ensure that the number of crimes committed on college campuses would be public knowledge so that parents and students could use the crime rate as a factor when selection a college.” In fact the purpose of the act is to ensure that faculty, staff, and students are warned about acts of violence on campus and can take precautionary measures.

As for the Clery Act, Professor Randall neglects to tell readers that Virginia Tech bought and paid for an expert opinion that the school did not violate the Clery Act. Tech paid $9,000.00 to Dolores A. Stafford, President and CEO of Stafford & Associates and a former police chief at George Washington University to write an opinion that the school did not violate federal law. As a reward, Tech then hired Ms. Stafford for thousands of dollars more to do work on security issues at the Blacksburg campus. Ms. Stafford may have accepted as much as $30,000.00 from the school. With that much money changing hands, how can anyone think she is not a hired gun? To think that greed did not influence her opinion is sheer folly.

Randall swallows hook, line and sinker the idea that the police were justified in assuming that the double homicide was a love triangle and the police zeroed in on Emily Hilscher’s boy friend to the exclusion of all other possibilities. Crime analysis #101 teaches not to exclude any possibility at a crime scene especially when there are bloody footprints leading away from the murder scene. Freshmen crime students know that, but apparently Chief Flinchum and President Steger were ignorant of that very basic principle.

Professor Randall claims that lockdowns are now knee jerk reactions on campus. That is simply not true—he gives no evidence. The only “jerks” are those who don’t take precautionary measures when confronted with a double homicide. As for the lockdown, Professor Randall fails to note that Virginia Tech Veterinary School lockdown because of the threat and he fails to note that the school president’s office was locked. An even more telling omission is the fact that Henry Lee and Rachel Hill were allowed to leave West Ambler Johnston Hall and were subsequently murdered in Norris Hall. Had West Ambler Johnston been locked down, those two young people would be alive today. That is a fact Professor Randall, not speculation. Why didn’t you mention that?

Virginia Tech violated its own security standard set in August 2006. At that time the school locked down when William Morva escaped from a nearby prison and killed a law enforcement officer and a guard. Virginia Tech locked down when there was no evidence a killer was on campus, and took no action when all the evidence pointed to the fact that the killer was on campus. How do you explain this and other inconsistencies, Professor Randall?

Professor Randall, have you actually read Department of Education’s final report? If you have did you ask yourself the following:

1. If you knew that there was no suspect, no witness, no weapon, and bloody footprints leaving the area, what would you think was possible as far as a shooter location? Would you wait 48 hours to let your campus know?

2. Are you an expert in the Clery Act?

3. Have you ever read what was Virginia Tech’s timely warning procedure in effect on April 16, 2007? What does it say?

4. Do you have ANY evidence that the Chief of Police EVER prepared a communication to be released to the campus and community as per the required timely warning procedure in effect on April 16, 2007?

5. Do you find it acceptable that there was enough time for secret emails to be going to Richmond describing what was happening but not to release that information? How about the fact that communications about trash and bank activities were stopped, phone calls were made by some Policy Group meeting attendees to their families about the shooting, various buildings and local schools were locked down, and even school and town SWAT teams were deployed, yet, only a few people on campus knew what was happening over an hour before Norris Hall happened?

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Feds: Va. Tech broke law in '07 shooting response


RICHMOND, Va. — Federal education officials have found Virginia Tech broke the law when it waited two hours to warn the campus that a gunman was on the loose, too late to save 30 students and faculty who went to class and were killed in the 2007 rampage.

The U.S. Department of Education issued a report Thursday rejecting the university's defense of its conduct and confirming that the school violated the Clery Act, which requires that students and employees be notified of on-campus threats.

The report concludes that the university failed to issue a timely warning to the Blacksburg campus after student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed two students in a dormitory early on the morning of April 16, 2007.

"Virginia Tech's failure to issue timely warnings about the serious and ongoing threat deprived its students and employees of vital, time-sensitive information and denied them the opportunity to take adequate steps to provide for their own safety," the report stated.

Virginia Tech officials did not send an e-mail to the campus community about the shootings until two hours later, about the time Cho was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building where he killed 30 more students and faculty, then himself.

The federal department first found that Tech broke the law in January, but the university had its chance to respond to the allegations.

That response was soundly rejected in Thursday's report, which brought satisfaction for some victims' family members who have repeatedly called for more accountability from school officials for their actions on the day of the shootings.

The university could lose some or all of the $98 million in student financial aid it receives from the federal government, and could be fined up to $55,000 for two violations — failing to issue a timely warning and not following its own emergency notification policy.

Any sanctions will be decided by a Department of Education panel and federal officials have not provided a timeline for when sanctions might be announced. Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said the school likely will appeal any sanctions. University president Charles Steger was traveling and unavailable for comment, Hincker said.

Some of the arguments in Tech's defense centered around the definition of a "timely" warning. The university argued there was no definition of "timely" until two years after the shooting, when the DOE required schools to immediately notify people on campus upon confirmation of a dangerous situation or an immediate threat.

The university argued that the definition of "timely" is still not clear.

"Today's ruling could add even more confusion as to what constitutes a 'timely warning' at a time when unambiguous guidance is needed," Hincker said. "It appears that timely warning is whatever the Department of Education decides after the fact."

The federal report countered that since 2005, the Department of Education has stated that the determination of whether a warning is timely is based on the nature of the crime and the continuing danger to the campus.

While Thursday's finding makes official the federal verdict for the university, it echoes some of the conclusions already made by a state commission that investigated the shootings. That panel also found that the university erred by failing to notify the campus sooner.

The state reached an $11 million settlement with many of the victims' families. Two families have filed suit and are seeking $10 million in damages from university officials. A judge recently ruled those lawsuits could move forward.

One victim's mother was satisfied that the federal report included actions that Virginia Tech officials took to protect themselves that morning. Victims' families had long wanted those details included in the report of the state commission.

"They couldn't fine enough money for what happened that day and how it altered our lives," said Suzanne Grimes, whose son Kevin Sterne was injured in the shootings. "It's more about the truth of what happened. That's what I sought for all these years."

The university said one official advised her son to go to class anyway, while another only called to arrange for a baby sitter.

But the federal report notes a few actions on campus after word of the shootings spread but before the e-mail warning was sent: a continuing education center was locked down; an official directed that the doors to his office be locked; the university's veterinary college was locked down; and campus trash pickup was suspended.

"If the university had provided an appropriate timely warning after the first shootings (in the dormitory), the other members of the campus community may have had enough time to take similar actions to protect themselves," the report said.

S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for Security On Campus, a nonprofit organization that monitors the Clery Act, said he found Virginia Tech's response troubling.

"Our fundamental goal is not to place blame, but to make sure students are kept safer," he said of the Act. "But their policy arguments would be very detrimental to protecting students all across the country if they were to be accepted."

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to report information about campus crime. To receive federal student financial aid, the schools must report crimes and security policies and provide warning of campus threats. It is named after Jeanne Ann Clery, a 19-year-old university freshman who was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dormitory in 1986. Her parents later learned that dozens of violent crimes had been committed on her campus in the three years before her death.

The report also found:

_The university's e-mail stated only that "a shooting incident occurred" and that the community should be cautious. The report said that could have led recipients to think the shooting was accidental and that it failed to give students and employees the "information they needed for their own protection."

_The warning would have reached more students and employees and "may have saved lives" if it had been sent before the 9:05 a.m. classes began.

_That Tech's warning policy — which is required under the Clery Act — was vague and did not provide the campus with the types of events that would warrant a warning, who would deliver it or how it would be transmitted.

_The university's process for issuing a warning was complicated and not well understood even by senior officials.

The financial impact for Tech is not decided. An expert on the federal Clery Act said loss of federal aid is unlikely.

Carter said reviews based on the law are relatively rare and that the Virginia Tech review was the 35th in two decades. No school has ever lost federal funding, and the largest fine to be levied was $350,000 against Eastern Michigan University for failing to report the rape and murder of a student in a dormitory in 2006.


Associated Press Writer Steve Szkotak contributed to this report.

Monday, December 6, 2010

McDonnell’s Shell Game

Governor McDonnell intends to privatize Virginia’s mental health care system, arguing it will save money. Privatization of mental health care, however, will cost Virginians millions of dollars more than if it were left in the hands of a state organization. While many private health care providers are decent and highly motivated, the governor nevertheless appears willing to open the door to special interest groups whose goals are self-enrichment, not better health care. The governor appears poised to guarantee private companies a profit (as much as 10%) for running mental health care. McDonnell proposes to line the pockets of individuals who will get rich on the problems, sufferings, and illnesses of others.

McDonnell’s privatization plans break promises made after the shooting at Virginia Tech. Following the Tech tragedy, Richmond promised more money for mental health services. Indeed, the state did allocate money for mental health and indicated that it would be a high priority. However, the state then cut the mental health budget by 15%, and the following year by another 15%. Virginia now spends less on mental health than it did before the Tech shootings.

McDonnell was Attorney General when the promises were made. He did not object to those promises—his silence was tantamount to concurrence.

The governor bases his policy on the fallacy that privatizing will make the system more efficient. It is not logical to assume that paying private firms less money for decentralized mental health care will result in better treatment and reduced costs. If mental health care is turned over to private companies the state will need an office to guarantee the quality of privately run patient care. That office will cost money.

Privatization includes decentralization of mental health care. Decentralization will mean a loss of economy of scale. Some individuals should be in larger institutions where they can get better care; they need to be away from the rest of society. McDonnell’s decentralized mental health system would do away with these larger institutions. Well meaning, but unqualified people working for less money will be hired. The quality of care will suffer. People will not be cured nor will they be turned into individuals who can function in society. People will not get the care they need; some will be turned away or turned out. Many or most will turn to crime, and when arrested the electorate will have to spend more money on jails. Meanwhile, private providers will get richer and richer.

Governor McDonnell is a graduate of a Christian school that prides itself on teaching family and Christian values. The governor is quick to point out how much he respects and promotes those values. Unfortunately, his policies are the exact opposite of his words. Privatization of mental health care will mean families will suffer; families that are in no position to defend themselves. Tax dollars will go to guarantee profits to contributors to the governor’s political campaigns, not to help vulnerable people, many in desperate need of help.

The governor can find money to repair roads, but not human beings.