Monday, April 14, 2008

Bathroom threat closes Chicago campuses

Chicago's St. Xavier University remains closed at this hour as school and law enforcement officials try and identify who might be responsible for threatening graffiti in a dormitory bathroom. University officials cited recent tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University in support of their decision. "It's a difficult decision; it's a disruptive decision," University President Judith Dwyer told the Chicago Tribune. "But safety is our first priority."

Who can argue with erring on the side of caution?

Neil Steinberg registered his dissent in his column in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times: "First," he writes, "it is a completely unsustainable policy. If St. Xavier does this for every bit of menacing graffiti, they might as well close down the school now. If other colleges followed suit, academia would vanish (whether that would be a good thing or not is a discussion we can save for another day)." He goes on to argue that the theoretical danger of a graffiti writer becoming a genuine mass murderer is less than the danger of sending a bunch of college kids home on an unplanned basis.

And it wasn't just St. Xavier's that closed: Not wanting to be outdone, a couple of high schools and some area grade schools also decided to close today -- just in case -- although, at this point, they expect to be open tomorrow. No one is saying when St. Xavier's will reopen.

And, as if to prove Steinberg's point, the Tribune now reports that Malcolm X Junior College has been closed today because threatening graffiti has been found in a bathroom at that school.

I don't pretend to be an expert in all the details of the tragedies at Virginia Tech or NIU -- but I don't recall reading that, in either case, the killer warned of his impending rampage by leaving graffiti on a bathroom wall.

In the case of St. Xavier's, the graffiti in question was left in a dorm bathroom. That may -- and probably should -- limit the number of people likely to have scrawled the threat to a reasonably small, easily identifiable group. Call those kids in. Look at their files. Who's got a big paper due? Who has a big test? Is one of the possible suspects a loner who scares the other kids? A big mouth who craves attention?

I sympathize with the administrators at St. Xavier's. I do. And I worry about my own kids. So far three have lived on college campuses; Middle Son still does. And Older Daughter, though a college graduate, still lives in a college town, attending nursing school. But we have to get a grip here. This can't be allowed to become a regular thing or no college will ever get through finals again.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

It all sounds an extreme gesture.

Ellee Seymour said...

I agree with Captain Picard that it sounds extreme. I've got all this to look forward with my son too when he starts uni later this year, if he works hard and gets good grades.

Patti said...

It is all unsettling, especially to us parents with kids in college, or on their way in August.

But I agree that we do need to get a grip.

landgirl said...

When I taught at a university, I was statled when the fire alarms went off and quickly vacated the building. Then an old timer told me it was pretty much standard practice at end of term. I relaxed a bit, but I still left the building. I don't know how to get the right balance between caution and common sense.

TroyBoy said...

Curmy, you've made very good points.