The UT Campus Shooting: What Elements are Ignored?

Police in Austin identified the young man who walked the campus at the University of Texas (UT) and fired shots from an AK-47 before committing suicide as sophomore Colton Joshua Tooley


In campus shootings, I am always drawn to witness statements like this one:
Libby Gertken, an assistant French instructor, was giving an exam in a nearby classroom when she got an e-mail from the university notifying her of the gunman.


"We all got on the floor," she said. "We stayed on the floor for a while. A couple of brave male students got behind the door to stand guard."
She said the class came up with a plan to "all run at the person" if the gunman came into the classroom.

And this one:

Nathan Van Oort, a junior from Boerne who was taking a chemistry quiz when the shooting started, said students in his class near the library got text messages and told the instructor what was going on.

The teacher told students to keep taking the quiz, he said. Some, including Van Oort, stopped taking the test and ran out.

"She just thought it was a rumor," he said. "I couldn't believe it that she would blow it off."
Also, this one:

Laura Leskoven, a graduate student from Waco, said she was in a media management class when she received a text message from the university saying there was an armed person near the library.


For the next 31/2 hours, Leskoven and about 30 of her classmates sat in a locked conference room trying to keep tab on events through Twitter, blogs and text messages.


"We were kind of shocked," Leskoven said. "Our professor said, 'Well, we need to get upstairs' because we were on the first floor of the building."

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I see two prevalent themes in these statements:

(1) University Faculty Lack Direction

One instructor ignores the breaking news of an active campus shooter, while another participates in a class discussion of a plan to rush anyone who tries to enter the classroom.  Still, a third professor debates relocating his class to a higher floor.

The majority of college and university faculty are not included in contingency planning for armed suspects on campus.  Unlike at K-12 schools, where administrators recognize the importance of the teacher in the classroom during one of these chaotic incidents and depend on them to react in a pre-planned manner, the academician at a higher educational institution is left to simply guess what the proper response should be.

My message to UT President Bill Powers: Ensure that every instructor in your classrooms knows what is expected of them, and that they are included in training for active shooter scenarios.

(2) Students, Instructors, and Employees are in Essence On Their Own

On airplanes and at K-12 schools, students, instructors, and employees can be on their own during a crisis, but the restricted access of these places, allow for better preventions and protections (stopping an incident from occurring and then resolving it quickly).

Conversely, college campuses offer open facilities.  Administrators can offer very little safety to those on school grounds when things go bad.

Simply stated, college students, faculty, and employees are in essence on their own when an armed and violent offender is running loose on school grounds.

Whether it be fight or flight, potential victims in these situations should be aware that they may have to act to save lives.

In this instance, it was fortunate that the gunman apparently chose not to fire at people or this story would have an entirely different sense of urgency (in the form of calls for action) attached to it.

30 comments:

passionofthemom said...

That is absolutely incredible, that the professor advised continuing on with a quiz when there was an armed gunman on campus!! Makes me feel kind of speechless...and REALLY glad I don't go to that school!! I live here in Austin, and it was a pretty crazy day yesterday in spite of the fact that the entire drama unfolded and concluded in less than 15 minutes. Campus was locked down all day, classes cancelled...it was nuts. And it's entirely true, what you said about the teachers and faculty at the collegiate level, though I had never really thought about it before now. Several of my Facebook friends have jobs on that campus, and spoke about the gads of people who were standing around plate glass windows facing out into the street, watching the whole thing unfold like a TV show...what if there had been a second gunman?? It seems insane to me that nobody thought to tell all these students to get the hell AWAY from the windows and take cover!! Just ridiculous...

Diana said...

No kidding?? Oh my. I'm like passionofthemom... rendered speechless. That is scary.

Thank goodness my grandkids go to schools that have strict security measures in place... I know because I helped with input on that to get it started when my own sons were attending the same school(s) in that district.

Vodka and Ground Beef said...

This stuff is so scary. Even stranger, usually they publicize the hell out of these things and I barely heard a snippet about it on the radio this morning and now from your blog. Are we becoming desensitized to school shootings?! That's kind of scary.

A Daft Scots Lass said...

Crazy fuckers.

suz said...

The "Ivory Tower" mentality is real. I work next to a small university, and it has a very insular culture. Faculty members are intelligent, but rarely street smart. I suspect many would ignore training if they had it, but they need it anyway.

My Husband's Watching TV... said...

I found the three stories you posted very interesting. It's easy to say what you'd do in this situation but until you're in it, you really have no idea. This is part of what scares me if we decide to ever have kids, I mean you can only protect your children to a certain point then they're on their own whether you want them to be or not. Thanks for the post Slam!

Expat From Hell said...

I think you've (once again) raised some great points. At what point do we increase "protection", like at our airports, when we are simultaneously trying to have an "open campus" to improve the environment for learning. Plus, this is Texas. I am surprised that there weren't more "arms" just hanging around in backpacks, etc. I know there are plenty sitting in glove boxes in this state. Thanks again, SD. EFH

Bob G. said...

Slamdunk:
I think you're right on BOTH coutns.

Talking with Wifey (a H.S. teacher) I hear similar instances on "preparedness").

Campuses are wide-open and are subject to roaming about.
On ANY day at ANY university, scores of people are going to anfd from most everywhere on site.
And who's to say which person is "THE" person that will cause the next "situation"?

Scary stuff indeed.

Stephanie Faris said...

I can't believe college campuses don't plan for things like this. Don't some K-12 schools have emergency phones in classrooms?

What strikes me about all of this is how technology has changed everything. Students text each other to warn them...that's a communication system that wasn't in place a few years ago.

soccermom said...

How scary. What does this mean? That college is so freakin stressful you have to go around shooting people?

obladi oblada said...

Interesting...I would think by now there would be some sort of protocol in place in the event this may happen. I mean a teacher IGNORING this information, should be grounds for firing in my opinion..that "Itll never happen here" attitude is very dangerous....

Shannon said...

Sobering post. You bring up some brilliant points. What can we do to ensure our educators are better prepared? (Shame that they have to be...)

Brian Miller said...

i drove to VT campus the day of their shooting...spent the day and evening, and really the next 3 days down there just talking o students and helping out...to see their faces....whew.

Mommy Lisa said...

People are idiots. I mean do they think its like watching CNN to look for the gunman??? Ugh. A plan for college campuses definitely needs to involve everyone because of the situation being so "open" - you are so on with this.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Too sad. You'd think by now they'd have a plan in place and practice it from time to time, like they do in grade schools.

Candice said...

So scary. You're right the instructors should be trained on what to do...not an open discussion...and certainly not going to an upper floor (why not just evacuate??). You're also right that if some people were killed THEN there would be more planning, but "near-misses" are often ignored.

joanny said...

This is an interesting and revealing post. We had this discussion in one of my graduate classes and so many different takes.

It gets more serious with each passing year in our schools. Back in the early 90's I remember seeing a map with little "red" flags placed on it where schools had been under fire, and what amazed me even more was they were small towns, or small urban cities, not the large cities on the East or West coast.

I wish I had an answer that was workable and fitting. The professor and the kids lacked "street sense" and there should at least be some early training on survival skills. There are some wonderful little yellow books out for surviving what if you are in an accident or earthquake or your car goes over a bridge on how to get out of the car, etc, why not on this topic from some top trainers from ex-military men and women?

Cheers,
Joanny

Kimi said...

Good assessments, Slam Dunk. In a time of uncertainty, it's unfortunate that contingency plans such as shootings could occur on campus, but having a preparedness plan in place and ensuring that all campus members (professors, faculty, students) be aware of the plan. Of course, plans change when the actual thing happens, but better to be prepared than never. Also, I notice that the students received the text alert messages. It just goes to show you the technological advantages that can help people in such crises. It's a stark reminder that NO WHERE is safe, no matter what procedure or security is in place, we all must be on the lookout for our own safety and well-being of others. Great post.

jodeeluna said...

What an excellent critique of this horrible event. One of my blogging friend's daughters was at the campus during this situation. As a middle school teacher, I wonder what I would do in such a situation. Thank you for the tips. I will think through the issues before hand.

ladyfi said...

Such a tragic event!

Shadow said...

for clever people, these are not very clever reactions....

The Babaylan said...

F for me. i'd rather live...

ocmist said...

Several years ago, when my youngest son was in High School, they had a bomb threat. They took all of the kids out and sat them in the football field beside the road. My son said that felt like being made into a target for anyone that might have thought things out and wanted to kill a LOT of students!

You are right. At our K-3 school, we had various plans, but I can see where the colleges probably don't, but should have training sessions for the staff about these kinds of things.

maxiscomments.com said...

What has happened to common sense today?

After what has taken place in the past EVERY school should have a plan in place for these situations.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the feedback all.

My purpose with this post was not to make fun of or judge the instructors who made decisions during the active shooter situation, but to show the variety of responses--arguing that there is a strong need to better integrate this group of leaders into the contingency plan.

Also, all American institutions of higher ed have emergency plans that they practice in hopes of never having to use. The limitation is that teachers (faculty) take a much smaller role versus K-12 teachers.

@ Expat: Yes, I thought the same thing, but I guess in Austin that would be the least likely place in TX to meet armed resistance.

Dan said...

I see this as a failure of the administration to have an official notification network and training of the staff and faculty. As an occasional professor, I am always amazed at the lack of emergency plans of any sort by universities.

Momma Fargo said...

That is very sad they were and are so misguided. Scary for the kids. Perhaps they all need to get on the band wagon these days. Our schools and universities, colleges, all have emergency plans they have worked out with law enforcement. And we drill on occasion to refresh ourselves.

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CL Beck, author said...

Although it sounds incredible that one professor told the students to continue with the quiz, I can remember taking a final exam at the U. of MD after a bomb scare had been called in. They gave students the choice to stay and take the final or leave and have to come back and reschedule the exam with the instructor.

Seems no one thought of just giving everyone there a passing grade on the final and getting them OUT of the building.

Crazy, huh?

Ann T. said...

Dear Slam,
I think you said it all. Even the ivory tower needs to learn how to do things every once in awhile.

Great observations!
Ann T.