Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech

By Richard Vedder

In the wake of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, what should we do as a policy response at the national level? Nothing. Instituting rashly new federal laws would not bring the victims at Virginia Tech back to life and probably would have little impact on the probability of future such happenings.

What should college presidents and other college leaders do? Pray -- that it does not happen on their campus.

The tragedy was huge, almost unthinkable, and is one of those occasional horrific mass murders which afflicts a society where some people have trouble understanding the difference between right and wrong.

Residential campuses are typically huge and spread out, with dozens if not hundreds of buildings. Providing tight security would be extremely expensive, and would detract from the freedom of expression that characterizes campus life and makes it so vibrant and joyous. Virginia Tech was not negligent in their protection of their students, or so it would seem to me at a distance.

To be sure, perhaps colleges should be more concerned about some students who have some probability of violent behavior based on profiling. But doing this can be very expensive and, of course, raise concerns from civil libertarians.

The publication of crime statistics, already mandated, is a good thing, as it helps informed parents in their attempts to minimize their children being put in harm's way. Virginia Tech is a distinguished and fine institution, with generally first rate students who are decent, honorable people who do not deserve to die so young or be so traumatized by senseless horror.

Having said that, however, it is easy to criticize President Steger and his staff after the fact. I think the decision he and his administrators made was not an unreasonable one, if in retrospect it was possibly very tragic (I don't know if notifying students earlier or even trying to cancel classes would have made a difference; a premeditated murderer may well have found a time and place to commit such a heinous crime). Removing President Steger will not bring persons back to life.

It is all so sad.

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