Thursday, April 26, 2007

My employer's response to VT tragedy

I hope I don't get in trouble for this.

As I have eluded to many times on this blog, I work for a small University. I work in an administrative capacity and my teaching responsibilities are almost entirely performed online. I took, and continue to take, the news from Virginia Tech very seriously.

On April 16, we received an email from the president of the school I work for. We received this email late in the afternoon, long after the tragedy at Virginia Tech occurred. The pertinent part of the email is as follows:

The tragic deaths of students at Virginia Tech on Monday are a reminder that the welfare and safety of our students are a priority that should be uppermost in our minds and never taken for granted. [name of university withheld] stands with all colleges and universities in seeking to provide a secure environment for our students. While we are thankful that our students are safe, our hearts and prayers are with the Virginia Tech students and their families and loved ones.
While my condolences and prayers do go out to the students and families affected by this tragedy, I'm left wondering just how seriously the administration at my school takes my safety.

In many ways, my school is very much like VT. The hopolophobes have instituted HR policies and student conduct policies that expressly deny citizens the right to carry any kind of weapon in self-defense. The typical academic arguments are made that a safe learning environment requires absolute and total disarming of the students, faculty, and staff. That the right of people on campus to feel safe trumps the rights of people to provide the means by which to make them safe. As is all too often the case in modern academia, feeling trumps practicality and pragmatism. I'm told by my employer that I should feel safe because they have done everything possible to make me safe.

Yet, I don't feel safe. My office is a cubicle that sits in the back corner of a modified classroom. There is one door to this room which is surrounded by drywall-covered concrete block walls. There are no egress points except for the two windows on the other side of a six foot cubicle wall. Outside the window is a two story drop. A crazed gunman like Cho can burst into this room and take all of us down with absolutely no possibility of escape.

Unlike VT, my school does not employ an armed security force. Our security force is armed with walkie-talkies and a data reader that scans the bar codes of the stops on their patrol routes. Not only are all students, staff, and faculty herded into single exit rooms, the local security force isn't equipped with the tools necessary to stop an armed intruder.

In effect, my campus is even less safe than VT was 10 days ago. We have no means of defending ourselves other than to wait for the police to arrive. The only bright spot is that we're only a few blocks from the main police building in our city (at this location anyway). Needless to say that doesn't fill me with a lot of hope should someone come shooting on my floor.

All of this begs the question, just how serious is my employer about my personal safety? Here in Michigan we do allow people to carry concealed handguns with a permit. Our faculty, staff, and students already spend time rubbing shoulders with people who are armed in supermarkets, theaters, and just walking down the sidewalk. They climb into cars without hesitation when a coworker is driving to lunch. They drive on highways where speeds are in excess of 70 mph and think nothing of the person driving the car less than three feet from theirs. We drive down two lane high ways three feet away from other drivers where the combined speed easily nears 130 mph. They trust those people and complete strangers with their lives and the lives of their family. Why is it that they won't trust people to carry concealed at the place they spend the vast majority of their waking hours? It must require some kind of reasoning, faith, or fear that I am simply incapable of to answer that question.

I respectfully submit that my employer doesn't care one whit about my personal safety. I think my employer is proud of our "no weapons" policies and doesn't plan to lift a finger to try and change it. I think some of my coworkers have swallowed the kool aid of fear concerning the utter, and unreasonable, lack of trust some in our society has for people who wish to be armed.

I think 32 people in Virginia bear now silent witness to the fact that disarming the good people in our society will not deter the evil people in our society. Evil people will always prey upon good people's good intentions. Those with murder in their hearts will always find the means to carry out their grisly plans. I'm sure every one of the victims felt safe right up to the moment Cho started shooting. The grim reality is that their feelings had no real grounding in reality and the promises from our various school administrations are just empty promises. We have built a house of safety founded on the sinking sand that says if we just ban guns from our midst, we will be safe. When the rains come and the wind beats on that house, as Cho did 10 days ago, the house collapses because the foundation is not as solid as we claim it is. Until we realize this, these kinds of tragedies will continue.

How many dead students will it take to finally learn this lesson? How many workplace shootings? 32 former students of VT demand an answer. As someone who works in a school not unlike VT, I demand an answer.

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