Thursday, December 31, 2009

No Right to Remain Silent

Lucinda Roy, No Right to Remain Silent: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech (New York: Harmony Books, 2009) is a disturbing window into the April 16, 2007 shootings at this university by the former chair of the English department who sought to provide aid to the student who carried out the rampage. Roy presents a university bureaucracy unable to cope with the aftermath, the failure of counseling services, the strange efforts to preserve the killer’s privacy, mismanagement of documents and other evidence related to the tragedy, and other revelations about the massacre. Roy does not spend a great deal of time trying to assess whether the culture at Virginia Tech is unique or common in higher education. However, my sense is that Roy’s analysis fits, unfortunately, comfortably within critiques of the modern corporate university. One minor example suggests this. Roy places the problem with teaching assessment as one of the factors of the school’s inability to deal with troubled students. She provides an interesting assessment of teaching evaluations, asserting that the student evaluations of teaching have evolved from something intended to assist faculty to a means to judge faculty, creating a process causing teachers to be “less adventurous” and “making some teachers think twice before they offend or provoke a student, and making professors and instructors less willing to report troubled students, especially if the teacher knows he or she could receive a blistering evaluation from the student in response” (p. 188). Among other things, this is the byproduct of a university seeking to establish itself as a top research university, hampered by a weak financial base: “With the pressure to generate income more pronounced than it has ever been it is unlikely that teaching will retain the level of recognition it deserves any time soon” (p. 178). I am sure there will be considerable debate about this book (even she assumes that she will have leave Virginia Tech after two decades of being on its faculty), but it is a volume every faculty member ought to read in order to reflect on the effectiveness of approaches to dealing with students with various behavioral, psychological, and other issues.

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