February 14, 2008

Killings in a NIU Classroom; WVU Woefully Unprepared

It was a horrible day at Northern Illinois. And it brings to mind something that annoys me no end about West Virginia University. WVU is currently spending who knows how much money on a building spree, building new buildings and refurbishing old ones. But it would appear that even in the wake of Columbine and Virginia Tech no thought is being put into making the classrooms in these new buildings secure. Some of them have glass walls. Some have doors little thicker than plywood. While I suppose it might be possible to lock all their doors, I have my doubts about that, and as an instructor I've never been told how. No, our campus's response to this kind of threat is a text messaging system. I don't know about you, but that doesn't make me feel the slightest bit safer. And given the current environment, the university really does need to take these kind of threats more seriously.

Posted by armand at February 14, 2008 07:02 PM | TrackBack | Posted to The Academy | West Virginia


I don't know if this or Columbine or Va Tech will make a difference. I remember when the U. of Iowa thing happened (what, 1991?). This kind of stuff isn't new, and most universities aren't ready. I include the students in that assessment.

And did you see? WVU was rated as one of the top safe universities (Pitt and Penn state didn't make the list) just this week.

Posted by: binky at February 14, 2008 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I take those ratings with a grain of salt. The measures could be off in the first place, but I really don't trust universities, any universities, to share the kind of data that is relevant to such a list.

Posted by: Armand at February 15, 2008 12:04 AM | PERMALINK

Am I being crass in asking whether it's worth, say, $50M to every cash-strapped university on the planet to make them shooting-spree-proof when these things still, statistically, are not much more likely to happen to any one individual than a lightning strike? You're more likely to die on your drive to work.

Posted by: moon at February 15, 2008 09:32 AM | PERMALINK

Well in the grand scheme of things, given the budgets of most universities, I don't think we'd be talking about a crushing amount of money. And I think it's something universities would want to do since, though the odds aren't great that it'll happen, it happens enough for universities to be aware of the problem - and then if it does happen at university X how is the administration going to respond that they did nothing to prevent it, but they did find so much money to go to the basketball coach's salary, or to hire a new prof in some obscure area who teaches classes that could be easily mocked on call-in shows? If I was an administrator I'd rather spend a few bucks on doors that can be secured just in case of a multi-million dollar loss that could result from this type of thing.

But what really gets me out of all this is that nothing's being done on this during a building boom at my school. I mean if you are already spending a fortune on construction, and these kinds of events are in the news, you'd think you might as well throw a few more dollars into the plans so that you could at least say you're building a more secure university.

Posted by: Armand at February 15, 2008 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

The difficult thing is that you have to balance the safety of the population during one of these kinds of events vesrus the day safety. What's more likely to occur on a campus: a shootout or a rape? Now, think about what the ability to lock classroom doors would mean for each of those scenarios, factoring probability. I'm not saying door locks would cause a rape epidemic, just that locking people out could exclude rescuers as well as shooters.

And there have been a couple of times where I've had oddly behaving young men who weren't in my class come in, or be sitting in my class at the beginning for a few minutes, and leave, that have caused me to wonder what could we do if that person had mal-intent. Not much is the likely answer.

There is a lot I dislike about public school systems and the way they are run, but one of the things they seem to be doing better at (based on talking to colleagues in the ed school) is training staff and students with pre-approved plans on what to do in the event of a disaster. Universities are far, far behind (and not just because they have scale problems in running a "shooter drill").

Posted by: binky at February 15, 2008 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

i think you grossly underestimate the expense of, say, bullet-proof doors, especially inasmuch as a) it's probably a violation of a fire code to lock the door during classes, b) the student can come in any time the door's not locked (presumably a lot of the time), and c) students can just decide they're going to do their thing out on the quad during prime time. no one can deny that the recent incidents are harrowing, but i don't think locks are going to significantly change their frequency. only columbine and v tech, among the ones i can remember, would have been affected by after-the-fact door-locking, since those are the only two i can think of where the shooters moved around rather than doing their thing in one spot from start to finish.

i don't suppose i can see much reason to resist using appropriate doors in new construction, but retrofitting is very expensive. i think schools would be better places if that money went to instructor salaries. and yes, i'm pandering. :-)

Posted by: moon at February 15, 2008 01:58 PM | PERMALINK

well that's true enough.

and i don't mean bullet-proof doors. i don't expect the university to go to that extreme. but say avoid using paper thin doors, or perhaps doors with windows.

Posted by: Armand at February 15, 2008 02:10 PM | PERMALINK
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