University statement on U.S. Department of Education findings
May 18, 2010
On January 21, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) notified Virginia Tech President Charles Steger in a preliminary report subsequent to university actions on the morning of April 16, 2007, that it found the university in violation of the federal law, The Clery Act, which requires a "timely warning" to a campus upon knowledge of certain crimes committed on the campus.
Although, the DOE considers their findings to be preliminary, the university is subject to Virginia freedom of information laws and is making the report and the university response available as requested by several media outlets.
In its 73 page response, the university strongly objects to the DOE preliminary conclusions. The primary author of the report, Michael Mulhare, Virginia Tech Director of Emergency Management, releases the following:
“Virginia Tech appreciates the opportunity to respond to the Department of Education’s preliminary report, especially given the factual inaccuracies about the events of April 16, 2007 that continue to be repeated and that are incorporated in the DOE’s document. Notably, factual errors corrected in the most recent addendum to the Virginia Tech Review Panel Report were not corrected in DOE’s preliminary findings, nor has Virginia Tech been accorded access to the administrative file for the purpose of responding to other factual misinformation on which DOE may have based its preliminary findings.
From the beginning, we have been firmly committed to full transparency and to sharing lessons learned from this tragedy with the higher education community and beyond. We believe DOE is similarly motivated and thus expect the ongoing DOE process will afford an opportunity to correct the errors of law and fact reflected in DOE’s initial report.
Virginia Tech professionals acted appropriately in their response to the tragic events of April 16, 2007, based on the best information then available to them, and we respectfully disagree with the preliminary conclusions of the Department of Education’s Program Review Report. The University’s notification after the first shootings in West Ambler Johnson Hall did not violate the timely notification component of the Clery Act, a position that is validated by one of the nation’s most experienced campus law enforcement professionals and a foremost expert on the Clery Act. Neither DOE nor the Clery Act defines “timely”. However, DOE’s compliance guidelines illustrate 48 hours as an acceptable timely notification procedure. Other Clery guidance, as well as industry practices, calls for notices to be released within several hours or days. The University actions were well within these guidelines and practices.
Early on the morning of April 16, 2007, a shooting occurred in the West Ambler Johnson dormitory. As the world now knows, the same person – a student – carried out a mass shooting 2 ½ hours later in Norris Hall, a separate building across campus. But we know this only from hindsight. Prior to the Norris Hall shootings, all the evidence indicated that a crime of targeted violence had occurred and there was not an ongoing threat. This was not the conclusion of one police department, but three independent agencies.
It is inconsistent with regulatory process to hold Virginia Tech to standards that did not exist at the time or, as portions of this preliminary report do, to hold Virginia Tech to a new Clery Act standard that was developed after – and in response to -- the tragic events that took place on our campus. We have all learned from the April 16 tragedy. Our campus and countless others are safer because of what we’ve learned and the actions we’ve taken. However, both the law and purposeful dialectic analysis require that the actions of that day be evaluated according to the information that was available to the University and its professionals at that time.
The healing process for the victims and their families, as well as the entire Virginia Tech community, is long and difficult, but we hope our responses to this report are another step towards providing clarity around the tragic events of that day. Virginia Tech has always put the safety and well being of our students first and will continue to do so.”