Many of the politicians who came to Virginia Tech following the massacre, cried in front of the families and media, and then worked to water down and undermine responsibility for campus safety at senior levels. These efforts were clearly intended to reduce the liability of school presidents and other top-level leaders.
One of the worst examples of this duplicity is Virginia State Delegate David Nutter. Nutter was both an employee of Virginia Tech and an elected official from Blacksburg in the Virginia House of Delegates. Common sense would make you think Nutter would be in the forefront of efforts to prevent school shootings. But, Nutter proved common sense wrong.
Immediately after the shootings, Nutter met with the families, wept, and offered his sympathies. But when it came to adopting measures to help strengthen school safety, Nutter balked.
The prime example of his chicanery came nearly three years after the massacre at Virginia Tech when the lower house of the Virginia legislature significantly weakened state Senator John Edwards’ bill to amend and reenact the Code of Virginia relating to crisis and emergency management for public institutions of higher learning. Specifically, members of the lower house took exception to university presidents and other school officials having to certify they comprehend and understand the school’s emergency plan—a plan that they play a role in creating. Here is the sentence as it cleared and passed the senate unanimously:
“In addition, the members of the threat assessment team, as defined …(by law)…, and the president and vice-president of each institution of higher education, or in the case of the Virginia Military Institute, the superintendent, shall annually certify in writing to the Department of Emergency Management, comprehension and understanding of the institution’s crisis and emergency management plan.”
Here is the sentence the lower house insisted on and appears in the final bill:
“In addition, the president and vice-president of each public institution of higher education, or in the case of the Virginia Military Institute, the superintendent, shall annually (i) review the institution’s crisis and emergency management plan; (ii) certify in writing that the president and vice-president, or the superintendent, have reviewed the plan; and (iii) make recommendations to the institution for appropriate changes to the plan.”
Stop to think what members of the Virginia legislature have done: they have said that presidents of the state’s colleges and universities do not have to comprehend and understand a document that is critical to the security of our children.
While the State Senate passed the original bill unanimously, the House of Delegates objected. The two most ardent opponents of the legislation—they wouldn’t vote for it in any form—were Delegates Nutter and Charles Poindexter, a right-wing politician who tried to derail the reappointment of Judge William Alexander, the judge who presided over the Pryde and Peterson lawsuit against Virginia Tech President Steger.
If you read the official reports of both the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, as we have, there is repeated emphasis on schools’ security plans and the role of those plans in preventing campus shootings. Now, according to the Virginia lower house, the presidents of the state’s colleges and universities do not have to comprehend and understand those plans.
Clearly Nutter’s promises to the Virginia Tech victims’ families weren’t worth very much. When the state had a chance to do something, as little as it was, Nutter refused to go along with the bill in any form.
Nutter is not alone. I will look at others in future posts. (To be continued)