< < < Mainpage: Explaining the Virginia Tech Massacre

< < < Mainpage: Workplace Mobbing in Academe

< < < Homepage: K. Westhues




The Unthinkable

Editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond, VA.
Saturday, August 25, 2007

Virginia Tech has released its own report on Seung-Hui Cho's massacre four months ago. The report is long on recommendations and short on introspection. Some of the recommendations merit serious consideration, while others seem almost crassly opportunistic. It's not clear, for instance, that a state-of-the-art public-safety building would have done as much good on the morning of April 16 as simply cancelling classes during the window between Cho's first two murders and his Norris Hall rampage. It's not certain that cancelling classes would have prevented mass bloodshed, either.

For obvious reasons, Tech's official report focuses on fixing the problem rather than the blame. But as yesterday's guest Op/Ed column by sociologist Kenneth Westhues suggested, there are legitimate questions about the factors and dynamics that can contribute to explosions of rage. (Contribution need not imply culpability. American pre-eminence on the global stage contributes to jihadist hatred of America but is not a moral failing.) Those questions are worth asking. It is also worth remembering that the next campus enormity could take a form no one has foreseen. Therein lies the tragic dilemma of planning for the unthinkable.

The Massengill commission appointed by Gov. Kaine will shortly issue its own report on the massacre. It, too, no doubt will contain recommendations about how to improve the emergency-response system, the mental-health system, the campus communication system, and other systems. But Virginians need to bear in mind a crucial point: No matter how good any system might be, its effective performance ultimately depends on the good judgment of the people who run it.