Saturday, September 08, 2007

Knee-jerking at Virginia Tech.

I am a Hokie alum.

In the wake of the tragic shooting, a petition went out saying,
We feel that these individuals and groups, especially Dr. Steger and Chief Flinchum, have borne the brunt of unwarranted criticism by members of the media.

We understand that they did their best to make life and death decisions with limited information, and that they acted in the best interests of the students, faculty, and staff of Virginia Tech.
In the internet forum for alumni in which I originally saw this petition posted, I wrote that I could neither support the petition nor felt I was ready to criticize the administration of the university. A reservation of judgment means neither an indictment nor an absolution.

Five months later, a statewide panel has issued a report on the response to the tragedy. WSLS-TV's web site reported Governor Timothy Kaine's summary of the report.
“Sixth, in retrospect it seems clear that, in the immediate aftermath of the first shootings, the campus community should have been notified of the fatal shooting and the fact that the perpetrator was at large. There is no downside to providing prompt and accurate information to a community of adults who have the capacity to make decisions to keep themselves safe.
Net: Dr. Steger and Chief Flinchum could have acted differently to save lives.

Now I have every confidence that the town police and university administration will respond in a professional manner to the constructive criticisms raised by the report. I see no need to call for their resignation or other punishment. My heart goes out to them for the difficult time they have gone through.

I believe that those who acted most irresponsibly, and may not see the need for change, are those who filed this petition. This kind of knee-jerk defense of the status quo does more to endanger lives over the long run than does poorly thought-out responses to tragedies.

At the time I saw this petition, I thought, you know, this response to criticisms is exactly what must have enabled problems like Abu Ghraib and the coverup of Pat Tillman's death to escalate. This response means don't investigate, support your troops, because the media cannot be right.

My view is that I would like to see those who initiated or supported the petition to represent me in neither the alumni organization nor in government.

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