I have previously criticized Virginia Tech for its well-documented failures in the massacre of its students and faculty in 2007 while commending the actions of individuals like Professor Liviu Librescu who surpassed the school’s negligence with their own selfless heroism. One of the most outrageous aspects of the aftermath of the massacre was the use of ridiculously low liability caps of $100,000 in Virginia to deny recovery of reasonable damages by the families — and avoid full accountability over the school’s negligent conduct. Now the school is challenging a mere $55,000 fine for its negligence — a pittance in terms of the millions that it avoided through liability caps. While the school motto is Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), it views that in strictly non-monetary terms.
Virginia Tech University continues to deny negligence — a task made easier by state law effectively extinguishing claims by family members. The state government’s fine for many borders on insulting — $55,000 in fines to the government after avoiding a likely tens of millions to family members. The state has acknowledged the obvious in how the school was too slow in notifying students, faculty and staff and violated federal law requiring timely warnings when there are safety threats. There is also the failure to act on indicators that shooter Seung Hui Cho was unstable that has been cited by families.
The university will contest the fines before an Education Department administrative judge, Ernest C. Canellos who will decided whether it is appropriate under the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to provide warnings in a timely manner and to report the number of crimes on campus. The hearing will last two or three days — two or three days more in court than most victims received in a torts action.
Obviously, it is not the $55,000 that concerns the school but undermining its ongoing fundraising activities. The school made a windfall in fundraising after the massacre. By 2010, the school had received 90,000 donations. Being publicly found to be partially responsible for the carnage would not foster fundraising under its “We Remember” campaign. After the massacre, the school announced a $1 billion target for donations — a massive amount for a school of this size.
In the end, one can forgive the anger of surviving family members that the school will have days of a hearing before a judge after they were effectively blocked from receiving a full trial on the negligence of the school. I do not believe that the school is primarily responsible for the acts of a madman and I do believe that all schools would have experienced some of these problems. Few school officials would quickly recognize such an unprecedented attack. However, to deny negligence by the school, in my view, is indefensible.
The school will present its case on Wednesday.
Source: Washington Post
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