What various spokespeople, administrators, and experts have said paints a picture of a University not just hesitant to comment on a criminal case involving bullets fired within the serenity of an undergraduate House, but cautious to avoid using language that could bring about a civil law suit.
Harry King, a crisis communications specialist based out of Boston, says that the goal after such an incident is to reassure the public that steps are being taken.
These steps, though, may potentially identify past problems that could have contributed to the shooting, enticing victims—in this case, Cosby’s family—to sue Harvard, according to criminal defense attorney Stephen B. Hrones ’64.
Hammonds cites legal reasons when discussing the communication clampdown on House staff and limiting her own comments regarding any possible reforms due to the Kirkland shooting. While Hrones says he understands the rationale, he says assuring student safety should continue to be Harvard’s top priority.
In an interview, Hammonds—though she did not name any tangible steps taken since the shooting—affirmed that Harvard is a safe place for students to attend.
To criminal defense attorney and Harvard Law School graduate Keith S. Halpern, there is no “legitimate reason” he can think of when rationalizing Harvard’s silence, as he says he cannot imagine an alleged drug dealer’s family would sue the University.
Still, Harvard’s current strategy of limiting communication is not necessarily an improper one given current legal proceedings, according to other experts.
“You should probably be erring on the side of caution until the litigation and the prosecution is complete,” says Peter Morrissey, an associate professor of communication at Boston University.
The University must find the right balance between protecting itself from litigation and assuring the community that it has adequately responded to the incident and its security implications, according to King.
But for some students, Harvard is failing to achieve a proper balance.
“I haven’t really seen anything from the administration on what measures they are taking to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” says Anne C. Taylor ’11. “I’d say it affected my perception of how safe the campus is.”
Since Harvard officials are not speaking publicly about the incident, it is difficult to determine exactly what internal evaluations have taken place and what they have concluded about the security implications of the shooting.
“The HUPD feels the Kirkland House incident was an isolated incident,” writes Catalano, the HUPD spokesman.
Ellison, who sits on several emergency response committees throughout the University, would only discuss the University’s internal response to the shooting in general terms.
“To my knowledge, I don’t know that there have been any secret committees or staff positions created to deal with any one incident,” he says.
But Ellison says Harvard considers the implications of any emergency.
“We always have an after-action review, talk about what worked, what didn’t work,” he says. “That’s how you prepare for the next big thing.”
—Melody Y. Hu and Danielle J. Kolin contributed to the reporting of this article.
—Staff writer Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Naveen N. Srivatsa can be reached at email@example.com.