The news is now out, the U.S. Department of Education has found that Virginia Tech violated the federal Jeanne Clery Act by:
- failing to issue an adequate and timely warning after the initial April 16, 2007, shootings on campus, and
- for failing to follow their published timely warning policy.
After the first two students were shot, a warning was not issued for more than 2 hours. Thirty additional students and employees were then shot and killed by the same shooter, with numerous others wounded.
The findings are methodically detailed in a 26 page report and may result in a fine or other penalty at a later date. The Department wrote in their final report:
"Virginia Tech officials knew or should have known that a murderer might still be on campus or in the surrounding community... What the Department has determined is that given the circumstances, the University should have provided notification to students and staff in a shorter timeframe so that they could determine how they wanted to respond to this serious criminal event. This is the purpose of the timely warning provisions."
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remarked in an official statement:
"My heart goes out to the families of those who lost loved ones during the tragic events of April 16, 2007, and to the entire Virginia Tech community... The loss of that day can never be undone. While Virginia Tech failed to adequately warn students that day, we recognize that the University has put far-reaching changes in place since that time to help improve campus safety and better protect its students and community."
Of the many changes instituted at Virginia Tech and around the country since this horrific tragedy, one of the most important aspects is the need for organizations (and their leadership) to be open to reflection. Institutions of higher learning must be learning organizations, willing to embrace and facilitate transparent communication, while evolving accordingly. As James JF Forest, an assistant dean and professor at West Point succinctly expresses:
"Guided by thoughtful planning and leadership... colleges and universities can acquire the knowledge and skills needed to respond to current and future challenges with increasing sophistication and success. How higher education leaders respond to the need for organizational learning will largely determine success or failure."
Before jumping to conclusions, before relying on our assumptions, let's be certain we are aware of the truths which exist -- only then can we truly take care of and protect one another.
In honor of the victims, survivors, and their families, please take some time and read the actual report.