Spreading Word Of Campus Crises Crucial, Senate Told
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Colleges need better ways of spreading information in a crisis and improved means of dealing with students who are mentally ill, even as the schools balance the principles of academic openness with campus safety, witnesses told the Senate Homeland Security Committee yesterday.
The hearing, held a week after a rampage at Virginia Tech that left 33 dead, was intended to find ways to prevent further campus violence, said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the committee's chairman.
One expert suggested shielding campus officials from lawsuits as they deal with students who pose a potential threat to themselves or others.
"Maybe set up conditions whereby there's liability protection if the university can establish by very clear criteria" that dangers are apparent, suggested Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and an associate dean at Columbia University.
Others who testified were David Ward, president of the American Council on Education and former chancellor at the University of Wisconsin; W. Roger Webb, president of the University of Central Oklahoma and former Oklahoma commissioner of public safety; Steven Healy, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and head of campus security at Princeton University; and Russell Federman, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Virginia.
Witnesses said universities must find a balance between openness and security. They cited the heavy workloads of campus counseling offices, the necessity of identifying students who might need intervention and the difficult choices faced by campus authorities in dealing with such students.
"The complex interplay between students' rights to confidentiality, university personnel's need to communicate, families' inclusion in this communication and the inherent conflicts of our health care, educational, and confidentiality policies needs serious consideration and review," Federman said.
The psychological condition of gunman Seung Hui Cho has been a focus of investigation in the Virginia Tech shootings. Federman, however, said: "The kinds of mental disturbances which yield extreme violence are rare."