John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Tucson’s Day of Infamy

January 12, 2011John N. GardnerInsights0

Saturday, January 8 was and will be forever, Tucson’s Day of Infamy. It is also America’s day. The term “infamy” is most frequently associated with the attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the United States into World War II. Not analogous here—other than both are examples of sudden and violent attack, personal violence and killing.

Like any and all of our thoughtful citizens, I am sorry.

I am sorry for all the victims.

I am sorry for all the victim’s families.

I am sorry for our democratic institutions.

I am sorry that our culture in all probability provided so many examples and stimuli for the deranged shooter of intemperate anger, irrationality, and disrespect substituting for an enlightened, rational, respecting, political process.

I am sorry for the fellow students of the shooter at Pima Community College

I am sorry for the leaders of Pima Community College, several of whom I know personally and one very closely.

I am sorry for the shooter’s family.

I am sorry for the shooter.

I am sorry for all of us. We have all been attacked, again. The peace, tranquility, sense of security and inviolability of us all has been pierced and weakened.

There is a part of me that wants to just shrug this all off and say “What can we expect? We live in a crazy country that encourages many forms of violence, and worships the ethos, the mystique, of the law of the gun”. I am in despair that nothing, no matter how many senseless slaughters, will change our country’s love affair with guns and our unwillingness to rationally restrict their use to protect us all. We didn’t after Columbine. We didn’t after Virginia Tec. We won’t after Tucson.

What are the implications of all this for higher education, to allow myself to think narrowly here for a moment?

Surely, we are going to be under much more pressure to police our students, scrutinize them more systematically, report aberrant behavior, and become a first line of defense for the protection of larger society. What are the societal institutions where we can most likely spot potential assassins who demographically are much more likely to be adolescents or young adults: prisons, high schools, colleges and universities, and the military. Wow. I never thought before about the commonalities of the members of that category.

Do we now need to add to our required curricula the subject of “self defense”?

I predict the smaller, rural, especially private, colleges and universities in their marketing will be even more intentional about suggesting they are safer, more secure, and peaceful. Interesting to note that the three most recent mass shootings by college students have all been by students from larger, public, institutions.

And I predict families, and too students who don’t think they are immortal, will be elevating personal safety as a factor in college choice.

In America, this can happen to any of us, anytime, anywhere. In this respect, higher education has potential lethal commonality. The outside world impinges on us all. There is no keeping it out.

-John Gardner

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