BLACKSBURG, Va., May 10, 2007 – Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger addressed the Virginia Tech Review Panel here Thursday. These were his comments.
Governor Kaine, Colonel Massengill, and members of the commission.
Normally, I would address a commission by saying that I am happy to have the opportunity to appear before you. We know that is not true. Each of us appears here today with heavy heart, a most profound sense of sorrow…and yes, still to this day…disbelief.
A terribly deranged young man….one of our own students…visited unimaginable horror upon our university, our bright young minds, our rising stars, and our caring and learned faculty.
He took 32 precious lives and then his own. He wounded 25 more. In the process, he seriously injured an entire nation.
As we have noted many times throughout this terrible ordeal, the families of those who lost their lives and the injured have remained our highest priority, followed by the needs of our greater university community. We will do everything possible to assist with their recovery.
I have said time and again, that Virginia Tech, our commonwealth, all of higher education, and indeed, the world must learn from this tragedy. I personally asked the governor for your work.
We have been and will continue to cooperate fully with your review and findings. I have appointed a lead individual, a retired university executive with experience in many sectors including audit, to assist you with your data gathering and be your liaison with any office on campus.
Each one of us and each sector of our society that has been touched by this tragedy must welcome the inspection, introspection, and the scrutiny of a thorough analysis.
In our own case we have underway after-action reviews, which can inform your data gathering. In addition to understanding the incidents, we will be looking at three broad areas: telecommunications infrastructure, the physical infrastructure as it relates to safety and security, and most importantly, the internal protocols for information exchange. I am particularly interested in those intersections between the academic enterprise, counseling, our disciplinary system, the legal system, and the police.
Our preliminary schedule calls for those reviews to be complete by late August, which I understand is within your study time-frame to be of use to you.
In addition to our incident response, I know that you will be looking at the broad spectrum of issues including policies, protocols, and the law.
I have read and heard other university presidents and pundits say that this tragedy could have happened on any campus in America. We draw no solace from such observations.
My hope is that we – and every campus throughout the nation – can learn in the months ahead what happened and why…to the extent that rational conclusions can be drawn from irrational violence. We will learn and the world will learn from this.
There already is a vigorous national discourse underway on many issues – mental health, the interplay between the rights of individuals and the rights of societies and communities, the interaction between gun laws and privacy, campus security and the underlying physical infrastructure, and much more.
We need to know how well our mental health system is performing. Is this country devoting the time, resources, and energy to helping those in need?
We need to know if privacy laws can or should change so that school administrators, court officials, or the mental health profession itself, has the information it needs to treat and handle those with mental illnesses on college campuses.
Certainly, you will bump into the nexus of individual rights and privacy laws versus the rights of a society, a community, or a university to protect itself against possible harm from the mentally ill...or anyone else, for that matter.
We need to know if the university reacted in accordance with accepted procedure in its response to the murders within our residence hall. Our university police and rescue squad responded within three minutes of a report that someone fell from a bed within a residence hall. Within minutes thereafter, the police, then knowing of a gunshot fatality and injury, secured the residence hall, began investigating, and within one hour had a "person of interest." Your analysis of this and the terrible events following is of crucial importance.
My campus has 19 miles of public roads on its 2,600 acres and 153 mostly accessible buildings. On any given day, we have about 35,000 people coming and going. How does an organization secure a university campus during an emergency? Or for that matter, what levels of security are appropriate for normal operations?
We need to know about the preparedness – to the degree that any institution can prepare for horrible and irrational mass violence – of my university and other schools like ours for violence or other mass events that require an institutional response to protect the health, safety, and welfare of a campus community.
We have multiple methods of emergency communications and have in the works implementation plans for more. We all need to know whether universities such as our can do more to protect and inform its populations and multiple audiences in emergencies.
Tomorrow, Virginia Tech will celebrate its annual spring commencement. This is our time for celebration. Commencement, of course, means "the beginning." For our graduates, it is and will be the beginning of the next phases of their lives. We know that they will carry with them not only those treasured memories unique to the college experience, but also the searing memory of the tragic events of April 16.
We owe it to them, we owe it to the injured, we owe it the families of the fallen… indeed, we owe it to all other schools and campuses in this country to examine all these issues in their totality….and find ways of preventing anything like this ever again.