Introducing Society’s Newest Scapegoats: Schools & Universities

Campuses are being wrongly blamed for tragedies caused by our nation's inability and unwillingness to address mental illness.
Published: August 20, 2012

If you have been following the aftermath of the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting, you’ve probably noticed that much of the media coverage involves speculation on what the University of Colorado (CU) should have done to prevent James Holmes, who was one of its former graduate students, from allegedly committing mass murder in July.

Six weeks before the shooting, Holmes’ psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, called CU campus police and asked them to do a background check on him, reports ABC News. She also expressed concern that the suspect could hurt others. It is unclear if Fenton believed Holmes was high risk, requiring a law enforcement response. As I write this, we do know CU’s threat assessment team did not meet to discuss Holmes or notify Aurora police when he dropped out of school shortly before the shooting.

What exactly transpired during those six weeks before the tragedy will most likely come out in the next few months. In the meantime, to defend against the media and legal onslaught that will certainly come, CU has hired lawyers to represent the campus police officer who was contacted by Fenton as well as Fenton herself.

The Monday-morning quarter backing in the Holmes case by the media, legal community and general public sounds a lot like what happened after Jared Loughner’s attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. In both of these cases, CU and Pima Community College (PCC) administrators and police suspected Holmes and Loughner (respectively) could be a danger to themselves and others. That being said, there was no way officials from either institution could have known that these men were actually going to commit mass murder at random off-campus locations.

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Unfortunately, most people don’t understand that on a large college or school campus, there are often quite a few people who could be considered at risk, but they never do anything to harm anyone. The same holds true for the general public. Fortunately, when a threat is made or someone is determined to truly be high risk, campus officials and local police are now much better at taking action.

Still, our society feels the need to blame someone, albeit unfairly, when a mass shooting occurs. In the CU case, campus officials and police are being scapegoated for not being able to foretell that Holmes was going to kill or injure approximately 70 people in a movie theater. I bet most of CU’s officials didn’t realize when they applied for their jobs as campus administrators and police officers that one of the requirements for their positions was owning and operating a crystal ball.

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