Monday, April 3, 2017



The report, then, falls short of what it needed to do: make clear that everyone in a position of responsibility must be held to the highest standards of safety, and that failure to meet those standards will result in stiff penalties. Instead, the reader is left wandering from page to page in an effort to tie ends together and make his or her own conclusions. 

There are structural flaws in the report centering on the Key Findings and Recommendations. Most people who look at a report this size will only read those two parts. Professional writers are taught to put one or both of these sections at the beginning of the chapters or the report itself because it is a well-known principle among professional writers that the Key Findings and Recommendations are the meat. By placing them at the end, and by watering them down, the writers are weakening the significance of the key findings and recommendations. In other words, the report is written more as an on-going investigative report, rather than an analysis of a major crime. TriData Corporation employs professional writers who presumably know this.

Now, let’s take a look at the specifics that typify errors found throughout the report. A major concern is the apparent selection of words in the report to downplay failings and mistakes. For example, the topic sentence on page 18 in the paragraph in the middle of the page needs to be replaced: 

Original Sentence
Reasons for Replacing
My Replacement Sentences
“Shootings at universities are rare events, an average of 16 a year across 4,000 institutions.”
Reason: To correct the report’s downplaying of the seriousness of the threat and to be factually correct.  Site: The Journal of College and University Law, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Notre Dame Law School, Professor Helen de Haven, “The Elephant in the Ivory Tower: Rampages in Higher Education and the Case for Institutional Liability,” —the citation for the article is 35 JC&UL 503, 2009.
“Shootings at universities are becoming more and more frequent and now average 16 a year across 4,000 institutions. Even before the rampage at Virginia Tech, a growing body of legal opinion held that the nation’s colleges and universities have a legal and moral responsibility to protect students, faculty and staff.”
            Another example is found on page 52—here, The Key Findings need to be rewritten to accurately reflect the magnitude of the school’s failings. These failings are documented on pages 46 through 52:  
Original Sentence
Reasons for Replacing
My Replacement Sentences
“The lack of information sharing among academic, administrative, and public safety entities at Virginia Tech and the students who had raised concerns about Cho, contributed to the failure to see the big picture.”
Reason: vague language, inaccurate reflection of the magnitude of the failings and over use of platitudes such as “big picture.”
The numerous failings of Virginia Tech to respond to warning signs that Cho was a serious threat to himself and others should not, and cannot, be glossed over. Members of the school administration and campus police failed to heed the warnings and take the initiative to head-off what became the nation’s worst school shooting. There were at least five complaints about Cho’s threatening behavior that reached the ears of campus police and or school administrators. Overly strict, and at times incorrect, interpretations of federal and state privacy laws combined with bureaucratic ineptitude to make the shooting rampage possible.

There are also discrepancies in logic and reasoning that need to be reconciled. For example on page 43 the reader will no doubt be confused over what constitutes a threat. In the left hand column, first full paragraph, third sentence through the end of the paragraph reads: “She (Dr. Giovanni) contacted the head of the English Department, Dr. Roy, about Cho and warned that if he were not removed from her class, she would resign. He was not just a difficult student, she related, he was not working at all. Dr. Giovanni was offered security, but declined saying she did not want him back in class period. She saw him once on campus after that and he just stared at the ground.” Here is the problem: if a professor is threatening to resign because she feels threatened, then Frances Keene, Judicial Affairs director, needs to give a better explanation of why Cho’s threatening behavior was not actionable under the abusive conduct-threats. 

In fact, all of page 43 is confusing and is intellectual mumbo-jumbo—it may have been intentionally written that way to hide the shortcomings and failures of the school to act.                
                  The report’s excessive use of passive voice sentences appears to be intentional and meant to obscure. Passive voice sentences are the preferred sentences of members of the legal profession because they allow for greater courtroom interpretation and argumentation. In an historical document such as this, passive voice sentences should not be used, unless the writer has no other choice.  

                  Let’s take a look at a couple of examples. Look at page 43 and how the passive voice is intended to hide who knew what: “However, it is known that the university did not contact the family to ascertain the veracity of home town follow-up for counseling and medication management.”  Known by whom? Was the individual or department responsible for this failure ever questioned?

                  Professor Lucinda Roy, in her book “No Right to Remain Silent,” gives an excellent example of passive voice sentences obscuring information. When referring to Vice Provost of Student Affairs David Ford’s statement to the panel on May 21, 2007, she writes, “As Ford revealed in his prepared statement, the president and the Policy Group were advised by the police that a suspect was being tracked—slain student Emily Hilscher’s boyfriend.” The prepared statement reads:  
 “Information continued to be received through frequent telephone conversations with Virginia Tech police on the scene. The Policy Group was informed that the residence hall was being secured by Virginia Tech police, and students within the hall were notified and asked to remain in their rooms for their safety. We were further informed that the room containing the gunshot victims was immediately secured for evidence collection, and Virginia Tech police began questioning hall residents and identifying potential witnesses. In the preliminary stages of the investigation, it appeared to be an isolated incident, possibly domestic in nature.” (Pages 81and 82 of the Review Panel Report.)  
            In commenting on the above, Roy writes, “It’s difficult to know why this last assumption was made, though there is little doubt that the term ‘domestic violence’ has connotations which can lead people to assume that the violence has somehow been contained within the domestic sphere and is therefore less likely to be visited upon those outside it.” 

                  Roy then adds, “When the passive voice is used in sentence construction it is hard to pin down who the subject is. In the first sentence of the above quote, for example, we would normally say ‘So-and-so continued to receive information,’ but instead we have ‘Information continued to be received,’ which makes it hard to know who was actually receiving it. Although this description begins as what appears to be a first-person, eyewitness narrative, it seems to dissolve into an account of an event viewed at a considerable distance. The phrase ‘The Policy Group was informed,’ for example, raises the question of who did the informing. It seems by the end of the paragraph as though everyone is receiving all the information at the same time, but given how chaotic the situation must have been, this seems somewhat unlikely. Usually teachers of writing try to dissuade students from using the passive voice construction because it tends to result in accounts that lack specificity and removes a subject from his or her own action, as it does in this case.” (To be continued)

No comments: