Steger Versus Winsett – Tragedy and Irony After Virginia Tech

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“You are hereby
directed not to enter the College campus or any College owned property
at any time for any reason” reads a one- page letter sent through
courier by administrators no more than a day after an upsetting
classroom incident had come to their attention.

If you thought
that was V-Tech officials getting the perpetrator of reportedly
the biggest campus massacre in the US, Cho Seung Hui, out of the
classroom, you thought wrong.

Probably nothing
says more about the priorities of the political culture nowadays
than the firing last week of Nicholas Winsett, a teacher at Boston’s
Emmanuel College. ("Emmanuel
Prof. Fired For Discussing Virginia Tech Shooting
,” Emil Steiner,
Washington Post online, April 24, 2007.)

On Wednesday,
two days after the Virginia massacre, Winsett enacted a little skit
in his classroom.

During the
skit, Winsett used a marker to pretend to shoot at a student who
had previously been prepped to simulate firing back. He was illustrating
his argument that the massacre could have been prevented had university
policy allowed guns on campus. That may be debatable.

But, of course,
debating things is precisely what professors do.

To my mind,
he made some thoughtful points:

He asked students
what the impact of this tragedy on the stock market was (nil) to
show that a sensational tragedy does not equate to something that
has a deep social impact.

He also argued
that the incidence of such killings is miniscule. You are more likely
to be shot in a convenience store or struck by lightning than killed
in a mass shooting.

His interpretation
is open to question, of course. For one thing, I think he overlooks
the importance of the twin issues of psychiatric drug use and the
increase in police-state laws. But I doubt he is much off the mark
on the statistics.

Here is a
video of his argument on YouTube
.

Emmanuel College
claims he was making light of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. He is
said to have made derogatory references to “rich, white kids.” The
college is within its rights to maintain its standards, which may
well have been violated by what he said. I don’t claim to know.
But, in this case they seem to have been quick enough to act…even
without much investigation.

Meanwhile,
the President of Virginia Tech has yet to step down for the university’s
role in witlessly enabling Cho Seung Hui. Indeed, if we are to believe
Steger, officials did all that could humanly have been done. But
this Time article calls him on that (“Va.
Tech's President Should Resign
,” John Cloud, Time, April
19, 2007).

And this is
what V-Tech's own policy guidelines apparently state:

“The governing
boards of each public institution of higher education shall develop
and implement policies that advise students, faculty, and staff,
including residence hall staff, of the proper procedures for identifying
and addressing the needs of students exhibiting suicidal tendencies
or behavior. The policies shall ensure that no student is penalized
or expelled solely for attempting to commit suicide or seeking mental
health treatment for suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Nothing
in this section shall preclude any public institution of higher
education from establishing policies and procedures for appropriately
dealing with students who are a danger to themselves, or to others,
and whose behavior is disruptive to the academic community.”

(my emphasis).

A glance at
Dr. Steger’s professional record shows it to be an impressive one,
which makes this turn in his career all the more tragic.

But this paragraph
in his CV
struck me not as tragic… but ironic:

“Most
recently, he has been asked by the Swiss Ambassador to the United
States and The World Bank to serve on a committee to establish a
foundation in the United States to conduct research on mitigating
global natural disasters.”

Indeed.

Still, even
if he resigned from V-Tech, Steger’s path is unlikely to be downward.

Right
now, that’s not the case with Nicholas Winsett.

April
25, 2007

Lila Rajiva
[send her mail] is the
author of The
Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media
(MR
Press, 2005) and with Bill Bonner, the forthcoming Mobs,
Messiahs and Markets
, (Wiley, 2007). Visit her
blog.

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