Virginia Tech Verdict Repealed

Though the United States Department of Education has repealed its December verdict that found Virginia Tech’s response to a 2007 campus shooting in violation of the Clery Act, emergency protocol at universities will likely remained unchanged.

The Clery Act requires universities to issue “timely warnings” to students following an incident that could pose a threat to their safety. It also mandates that university police departments maintain a public crime log and release annual security reports.

In April 2007, a shooter at Virginia Tech opened fire, killing 32 people and wounding 25 more before committing suicide.

In December 2011, the Department of Education required that Virginia Tech pay a fee of $55,000 for its alleged failure to issue warnings out to students in a timely manner.

On Friday an administrative law judge at the Department of Education ruled that the school’s actions did not violate the Clery Act.

The email warning was sent to students two hours after the first shots were fired at Viriginia Tech. Soon after the message was sent, the shooter opened fire again.

Though the original verdict was repealed, it had already had a significant impact on university policies across the country.

Discussion about emergency protocol is likely to continue in light of Monday’s fatal shooting at Oikos University in Oakland, Calif. that resulted in at least seven deaths.

Attorney Harvey A. Silverglate said he believes that despite the repeal, the original verdict will have a large effect on college administrations.

“One of the major principles of the governance of American institutions of higher learning is to limit liability,” said Silverglate, who specializes in criminal defense, civil liberties, and academic freedom. “The place is run by the lawyers. It’s no longer academic freedom; it’s ‘how do we avoid being sued?’”

Silverglate said that many times colleges overreact to legislation, such as the Clery Act, leading administrators to infringe upon the rights of students.

“Once liberty is taken away it is not given back, especially when it is in the name of safety,” he said.

Nonetheless, the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting changed the way that many colleges implement their emergency protocol systems.

College campuses across the nation reevaluated their policies in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting and many implemented an emergency messaging system.

HUPD Spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an email that “like all police departments across the country, the HUPD did examine its planning and training for handling life-threatening emergencies.”

At Harvard, Community Alerts and the MessageMe system are used to keep students informed about potential threats.

Harvard University Director of News and Media Relations Kevin Galvin emphasized the importance of students’ safety and security to the administration in an emailed statement, adding that the administration is “continually reviewing and updating [its] emergency preparedness and procedures.”

He also wrote that the administration and the HUPD work closely together. “...if an alert needs to be sent, we will have several individuals who are able to act in a timely fashion,” he wrote.

—Staff writer Amy Friedman can be reached at afriedman@college.harvard.edu

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