Monday, April 16, 2007

Wait For The Ricochet...

"...wait for the ricochet" is the concluding line to the song Child in Time [Beware pop-ups], by the classic rock group Deep Purple. Somehow, it seems appropriate today.

I teach a three hour graduate class on a Monday afternoon. The morning is fairly hectic too. When I arrived in my grad class one of the students asked me whether I had heard about the events at Virginia Tech. I had not. After class was over, I got home and watched the news. I am completely horrified.

The media are full of accounts of the events, that are beyond distressing. However, there is likely to be many further, far less dramatic traumas that the faculty, staff and students of this University will have to endure, before it is all over. My guess is that this less dramatic kind of trauma will not be covered so widely by the media, but will nonetheless be dreadful for those whom they effect. This is the 'ricochet' I refer to in the title to this post.

On most campuses at the moment, the semester is drawing to a close. This means that final exams are close at hand. It would be almost unimaginably difficult for students at Virgina Tech to focus on their studies, after the events of today. Unfortunately, the pulse of University life means that there is no easy solution to this situation. Seniors need to graduate, as many will have jobs, or graduate schools elsewhere to go to. They can little afford a delay. Yet, those most closely effected by today's events will not be in good shape and thus their GPAs are likely to suffer. Although a delay may seem the humanitarian option, it would come at a cost. Rent still has to be paid and food still has to be bought. Thus, there will be negative effects far beyond those depicted by the shocking images played on the news.

It is likely that faculty will be negatively impacted in a profound way too. A University, no matter how elite, or how dysfunctional, is a community, especially for faculty. Any community that has to live through profound trauma will suffer. Perhaps the less secure and healthy will fear returning to the class room. Who knows. Unless radical steps are taken, some poor faculty member will have the dubious honor of teaching in a class room where a colleague lost their life. I for one would be very unhappy to be placed in such a situation.

It is also quite likely that there will be new provisions made, in a bid by the administration to enhance campus security. In all likelihood, these provisions will be burdensome and work against the free flow of people and ideas that makes campus life vibrant. Would you be inclined to return to your office, or lab of an evening if you had to run a gauntlet of security? I would be much less inclined to do so. Thus, again something important would become 'collateral damage' to the activities of today's lone assailant. It is also possible that enhanced security may become a feature of more campuses, thereby spreading the shadow of today's events. Administrations like to be seen to be 'doing something' in the light of such tragedies. Let us at least hope that the folks in Washington D.C. do not get involved in such programs. If they were to do so, it is a certainty that the results would be appalling.

Nobody can feel anything but the very deepest sympathy for the faculty and students of Virginia Tech at the current time. The point here is to keep in mind that, after all the camera crews and media have gone on elsewhere, there will still be high costs to be paid by everyone on that campus. These will be the 'ricochets' that will keep on coming. Thus, we should keep the campus community of Virgina Tech in our thoughts for a good long time.

The CP


Blogger olddeadmeat said...

A spot-on post.

Funerals and memorials can be both a blessing and oddly, a burden.

An university is sometimes more tightly connected than anyone might expect - some people may feel obliged to attend a dozen or more funerals.

Not to mention encouraging the living who must recover from their wounds.

That is the one thing bullets and words have in common - they often wound more than the target they were aimed at.

8:31 PM  

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