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.Also, this one:
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."
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."
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.