“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.”
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