Parents need to look closely, and learn, from the attempts to manipulate the events of the morning of April 16, 2007. For example, Virginia Tech President Charles Steger testified in the Pryde and Peterson trial that the email alerting the campus to the shootings was watered down and delayed until 0926 (just moments before Cho slaughtered 30 people in Norris Hall) at the request of Zenobia Hikes, former vice president of student affairs. Hikes died on October 27, 2008, and therefore, conveniently, cannot refute or deny Steger’s assertion.
Steger testified that Hikes argued that a notice about one student killed and another critically wounded, without family notification, would cause unnecessary panic and heartbreak. Steger said he found her argument “reasonable” and he thought it would be “horrible” to hear about it (the death) on the radio. So, Steger went on, he waited for more information to make a useful (he did not explain “useful”) notification. All I can say is that what he sent out only referred to a “shooting incident” and the email was certainly not useful. Furthermore, Hikes was very junior and to put the word “panic” in her mouth is, well to put it nicely, highly doubtful because preventing “panic” had been a major (but bogus) theme coming from high levels at Tech in relation to decisions made before and during the massacre.
Steger’s words were so egregious that six Virginia Tech faculty members wrote a letter to the editor of the Roanoke Times questioning the veracity of the school president’s testimony. The six pointed out that Hikes was too junior to make such a call. They also point out that, “Emergency and safety protocols dictate that policy decisions of this magnitude are made by others in positions superior to hers [Hikes], so it is distressing to us that she is the only member of the Tech Policy Group to have been singled out.”
Following the killings on April 16, 2007, there were rumors that the Steger administration instituted draconian measures to keep faculty members silent as part of the school’s aggressive campaign to manage the spin on the tragedy. It is therefore interesting to note that the six members who defended Hikes wrote the following in the first paragraph of their letter: “In spite of the risks involved in speaking out, we felt a moral obligation to write on behalf of Dr. Hikes, who, due to her untimely death, is no longer able to speak out on her behalf.”
Notes taken by Kim O’Rourke, chief of staff to university President Charles Steger, for the Policy Group on the morning of the 16th of April, do not single out Hikes as the main catalyst for delaying notifying the campus or revising the message. Those notes were shown to the jury during the trial.
Before I close, I need to remind you, the reader, of the magnitude of the task parents face in trying to tackle the problem of school safety. By the latest tally, Virginia Tech has spent over $1 million on public relations agencies to deflect attention away from what some have described as the worst massacre on a college campus in modern history. Can families compete with that kind of money? Furthermore, the school seems to be protected by politicians on both sides of the aisle in Richmond. The difficulty in simply getting one’s argument heard is almost overwhelming. (To be continued)