Friday, February 15, 2008
Am still reeling from the news of the shooting at Northern Illinois University yesterday, in which 5 people (plus the shooter) have died so far. NIU is about an hour west of here; many of my friends from high school went there. I wrote to a friend who is there now and commiserated last night. There is no difference between that lecture hall where an undergrad geology class was underway, and the lecture halls where my own classes are conducted. I've already heard calls for closing campuses, requiring locked doors and IDs to enter the grounds. This of course is impractical but also damaging to the very ideals that American (and most other) universities hold dear: open access to resources, community membership, academic (and other) freedom for all. Schools trust their users to behave as adults and take responsibility for their actions. Educational resources like libraries are there for everyone (with certain permissions to remove materials). A visitor should be allowed to sit on the quad or use the cafeteria without having to go through a checkpoint. Unfortunately, the openness that goes hand-in-hand with educational freedom also entails risks. Sometimes we get homeless people sleeping under our staircase. Sometimes evil men with cell phone cameras take pictures in the women's bathroom. Sometimes chalkers or leafletters advertise for causes we disagree with. And sometimes someone with a gun and a grudge can walk right into a classroom and make a statement. The cost of preventing that kind of access, here in the places where we learn to express our freedoms and opinions, would be very high. I don't know what the answer is. But I do know that teaching my review session on Monday is going to be very uncomfortable.
I wish every psycho with a deathwish would do the rest of the world a favor and go off themselves privately and not take anyone else with them.
The bell tower at University of Texas where Charles Whitman started the school shooting craze in 1966.