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Crisis Management
1/2/2015 12:00 AM

Colleges and universities can learn a lot from the U.S. government when it comes to campus threat assessment and violence prevention. From the 1990s Secret Service study of attacks on public officials to the most recent FBI study of active-shooter incidents, the findings have implications for behavioral intervention and campus incident response.

Colleges and universities can learn a lot from the U.S. government when it comes to campus threat assessment and violence prevention. From the 1990s Secret Service study of attacks on public officials to the most recent FBI study of active-shooter incidents, the findings have implications for behavioral intervention and campus incident response.

“Preventing Assassination: A Monograph: Secret Service Exceptional Case Study Project” details the findings from analyzing 83 attempted attacks on public officials that occurred from 1949 to 1996. Key findings from this report include:

  • Violence is the end result of an understandable process of thoughts and behavior.
  • Individuals who engage in violence don’t fit a single or specific profile.
  • There are often identifiable behaviors of concern exhibited prior to the act of violence, including the planning and preparation.

The resulting implication of this study is that many acts of violence are potentially preventable. After Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s violent acts at Columbine High School in 1999, the same question was asked about violence in the school setting. “The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States,” a study by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education, reviewed the behaviors leading up to 37 school shootings occurring between 1974 and 2000. The same themes emerged, including:

  • Attacks are rarely sudden or impulsive.
  • Most of the time, someone knew about the idea or plan before it happened.
  • Most attackers exhibited a behavior that caused concern for others before the attack.

So why don’t people report these concerns? The answers are simple:

  1. No one wants to believe their friend or their son or daughter could be capable of such violence.
  2. There isn’t a singular, definitive profile, predictor or cause of violence. This is illustrated in a student bystander study by the U.S. Secret Service, “Prior Knowledge of Potential School-Based Violence: Information Students Learn May Prevent a Targeted Attack,” that found that people often misjudge the likelihood, immediacy and actuality of an attack, so they don’t report it.

Understand the history

The Virginia Tech incident in 2007 became the deadliest shooting on a college campus since 1966, when Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded many more at the University of Texas-Austin in what’s now known as the “clock-tower shooting.” Then in 2008, the violence at Northern Illinois University led officials at colleges and universities throughout the country to ask, “Are we next?”

Campus threat assessment and behavioral intervention teams emerged, attempting to connect the dots to understand student behavior across the silos that frequently exist at academic institutions. The Handbook for Campus Threat Assessment & Management Teams emerged as a resource to help campuses put the threat assessment research into practice through the creation of multidisciplinary behavioral intervention teams. These teams are designed to identify behaviors that reflect where someone falls on the escalation of violence spectrum (from ideation to implementation).

“Campus Attacks: Targeted Violence Affecting Institutions of Higher Education,” published in 2010 by the U.S. Secret Service, reviewed 272 incidents of targeted deadly violence that occurred at colleges and universities, ranging from sexual violence to gunshots. Most of the time, the violence comes from a member of the campus community. The triggers for violence vary. But in the current national landscape focused on sexual violence on college campuses, it’s worth noting that more than half of the incidents were triggered by an intimate relationship, refused advances, obsession or sexual violence. Other triggers included retaliation, academic stress/failure, bias and workplace dismissal.

Follow key steps

As our campuses strive every day to answer that dreaded question “Are we next?” consider these key guiding concepts:

  • Create a culture of reporting. Looking back at the behaviors leading to the Columbine shooting or other incidents, we can identify warning behaviors. However, would we each report the behavior if it involved one of our own friends, students or children? That’s why we need to make it easy for our campus community members to report concerns, and build trust by sharing information with reporting parties whenever you can. While the team’s risk assessment model should remain confidential, the campus community needs to know what kinds of things to report, what will happen with the information, and what will happen to the person of concern. Your team’s eyes are the campus community. Without referrals, you’re blind to what’s happening on your campus.
  • Get the right people at the right table at the right time. Once you learn of a concern, arrange for the best people you have to investigate and review it. While there’s no “right” number, effective teams generally include four to seven members to ensure multiple perspectives and timely action. Consider ad-hoc meetings or a core and extended team if you have a larger campus or team. Quality training and use of a mutually understood risk assessment model should ensure that if only a few team members convene, then decisions should still be made as if the whole team made them.
  • Focus on prevention, not prediction. Don’t try to determine which one of your highest-risk cases might be the one that actually results in violence. Once you determine someone has a risk level for violence, take appropriate steps to intervene to lower the risk no matter how high or low that risk seems. This is where the team also supports the overall institutional mission of student success and completion.
  • Balance research and campus context in decision-making. Use the team to evaluate behaviors, risk factors and protective/supportive factors impacting an individual, and use a consistent model based on research to guide investigations, evaluate information, and determine a level of risk and any appropriate interventions.
  • Intervene before a threat. If the team is spending all its time on high-level-threat cases, or if the team chooses to meet only once or twice a year, there isn’t enough time being spent on the low-level cases such as argumentative or isolated students. Ideally, teams spend most of the time deciding whether the behavior is simply an isolated concern or whether it’s an indicator that the person poses a low threat for violence. This often means a lot of case management and follow-up, rather than a lot of detailed investigations.
  • Don’t try to exist in a vacuum. Just as The Handbook for Campus Threat Assessment & Management Teams notes, the process is about threat assessment and management. Violence is a process, not a snapshot. Keep good records. Follow up on leads and confirm your interventions are effectively managing the threat. Employ monitoring strategies to make sure certain individuals don’t rise back to a threat level. Take the campus into the context of the larger society, considering when to alert someone outside the campus about a possible threat, especially if you’re separating a student or employee from your campus.

Even though we often ponder the question “Are we next?” the reality is that we must ask it again every day and after every new incident that occurs throughout the country. Even the FBI recognizes that “[o]ur success will always be hard to quantify, since success is defined as the lack of an event,” as stated by Andre Simons, a supervisory special agent with the FBI, in “Why Mass Shootings Keep Happening: A Radical New Look at Mass Shooters. Why They Do It and How to Stop Them.”

While we continue daily efforts to prevent violence on college campuses, we can take solace in the 2013 “Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention & Policy, APA Panel of Experts Report,” which found that behavioral threat assessment and management teams are “the most effective tool currently available to prevent workplace violence or insider threats.”

Although we may not be able to fully quantify our success, there’s a certain measure of success found in being able to sleep at night and come to work ready to ask the question through an intentional campus process based in government research and strategies.

Check out threat assessment resources

—Compiled by Laura Bennett

12/22/2014 12:00 AM

Student affairs professionals know the challenges of forging productive, effective partnerships with academic affairs. But when those partnerships lead to innovative programs that stand the test of time and bring long-term benefits for the institution and students, it’s quite an accomplishment.

Student affairs professionals know the challenges of forging productive, effective partnerships with academic affairs. But when those partnerships lead to innovative programs that stand the test of time and bring long-term benefits for the institution and students, it’s quite an accomplishment.

That’s what happened for Peggy Burke, associate vice Peggy Burkepresident of student development at DePaul University, where she began her career 30 years ago. She’s also Region IV-East Director for NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Burke was the student affairs leader who partnered with academic affairs to help implement DePaul’s first-year experience program, Chicago Quarter.

At the program’s 20th anniversary celebration, three former academic deans spoke glowingly of Burke and the instrumental role student affairs played in making the program a success. “It was the most articulate and passionate expression of the value of a student affairs partnership I have ever heard from academic deans,” said Eugene L. Zdziarski, II, DePaul’s new VP for student affairs.

In 1995, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was revamping the general education curriculum for the university, which didn’t have a freshman seminar. A former associate dean developed the idea of using the city as a learning environment to create Chicago Quarter classes for first-year students, Burke recalled.

“Student affairs played an important role in developing the courses. We had a comprehensive summer orientation experience in place, but new students have transitional needs during their first academic term,” Burke said.

Student affairs volunteered logistical help with moving large groups of first-year students throughout the city, arranging transportation, site visits, meals, and speakers for multiple courses at the same time, Burke said.

Student affairs also suggested adding an hourlong component to each Chicago Quarter course. “This would allow us to educate students about being a college student, a college student in the city of Chicago, and a DePaul student in a comprehensive manner and connect it to the students’ academic courses so it wasn’t disconnected from their academic experience. We suggested each course be taught by a faculty member, a professional staff member, and a student leader in a team-based approach,” she said.

The suggestions became part of the program, which introduces students to the city, the university, and college academics in small learning communities in a first-year seminar format. The Chicago Quarter continues meeting the university’s strategic goals:

  • Introducing new students to the general education curriculum.
  • Improving freshmen-to-sophomore retention.
  • Introducing Chicago as an extension of the classroom.
  • Expanding the orientation experience.
  • Establishing a thriving learning community of faculty, professional staff, student mentors and new students.
  • Helping freshmen see themselves as DePaul students.

Burke said student affairs managed to establish a successful partnership with academic affairs by:

  • Frequently collaborating on such projects as new-student orientation,  speakers programs, cocurricular programs, and major on-campus programs, as well as serving as advisors for student organizations.
  • Using research to support their proposal for the extra hour added to the course. Student affairs referred to institutional retention data and nationwide best practices for first-year seminars. They also served on committees studying these issues.
  • Volunteering to implement the Chicago Quarter program, even though it meant taking a risk and accepting additional work. The extra effort proved student affairs as a valuable partner.

WORD OF ADVICE: Follow tips to foster partnerships

If you’d like to improve your partnership with academic affairs, consider following this advice from Peggy Burke, associate vice president of student development of DePaul University:

  • Reach out to academic affairs. Involve them in student affairs initiatives.
  • Pay attention to academic affairs’ priorities and goals. Align student affairs’ goals with academic goals to work toward success together.
  • Recognize that innovation requires new ways of thinking and accomplishing goals. Create collaborative partnerships to help faculty members manage the challenges of adapting to change.
  • Stay abreast of current trends, research and best practices. Use it to form the basis of your proposals that will help your institution meet its strategic goals.
  • Attend academic planning sessions hosted by academic leaders. Listen to their needs and develop ways student affairs can help. “We are partners in the academic enterprise of our institutions, so this means we need to pay attention and participate as much as we can in shaping the academic vision of the future,” Burke said.

Email Peggy Burke at pburke@depaul.edu or follow her on Twitter: .

Liability
11/18/2014 12:00 AM

Follow this legal expert’s guidance for the final steps of conducting employee misconduct investigations: making a finding, drafting the investigation report, and wrapping up the investigation.

During the past couple of months, I have addressed the essential elements necessary in preparing for an employee misconduct investigation within your student affairs unit as well as best practices to implement during the discovery process.

This month, to conclude this multipart series involving key considerations that student affairs administrators should address when conducting employee misconduct investigations, we’ll focus on making a finding, drafting the investigation report, and wrapping up the investigation.

  1. Making a finding. As soon as the investigation has been completed and all facts have been collected and analyzed, the investigator should determine the investigation’s findings. When making a finding, the investigator should follow these steps in sequential order:
    • First, note the material facts obtained during the investigation. Don’t draw any conclusions or make any assumptions at this point.
    • Then, analyze the factual findings by reviewing any inconsistent information obtained during the investigation and assessing any witness or document credibility issues that may have been discovered during the investigation.
    • After you have noted the material facts of the investigation and provided an analysis of the facts, you’ll be able to make a finding regarding whether it’s reasonable to conclude that the alleged misconduct actually occurred.
  2. Writing the investigation report. When the internal investigation has been concluded, the factual findings, analysis and assessment should be detailed in a well-prepared and organized investigative report. The investigator should make sure to address the following aspects (at a minimum) in the investigation report:
    • Introduction.
    • Purpose of the report.
    • Chronology of events.
    • Executive summary of the findings.
    • Identities and titles of all involved parties.
    • Overview of the investigation.
    • Methodology used during the investigation.
    • Discovery information (i.e., interview subject names, dates of the interview, location of the interview, document identification with corresponding bates-stamp, etc.).
    • Specific findings and narrative.
    • Corrective actions and penalties.
    • Conclusion.
    • Appendix.

    In addition, during the report’s drafting stages, ensure the report is labeled as “attorney-client privileged.” You also might want to label the report as “work product” if you’re anticipating any litigation. Discuss these considerations with your institution’s general counsel.

  3. Conducting a post-investigation follow-up. Once you have completed the investigation report, any corrective action outlined in the report should be implemented. Appropriate corrective actions in employee misconduct cases may include the revision of existing policies and procedures — or creation of new policies and procedures if none addressing this type of conduct or investigation existed — plus disciplinary action or an educational training program.
  4. Your institution should also follow up with all appropriate parties (e.g., the subject, complainant, etc.) regarding the outcome of the investigation.

    Finally, your athletics department should create a final investigation file that houses all information to keep for institutional records. This file should be based on your institution’s specific policies but may include the following aspects:

    • Communications outlining the steps followed during the investigation.
    • Final investigation report and any supporting documentation.
    • Written communications that took place during the course of the investigation.
    • Final actions taken by your institution following the report and any communications with involved parties regarding these actions.
Law and Campus
8/13/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: Gamage v. State of Nevada, No.: 2:12-cv-00290-GMN-VCF (D. Nev. 03/19/13).

Ruling: The District Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding the plaintiff had alleged enough facts to allow the case to proceed.

Case name: Gamage v. State of Nevada, No.: 2:12-cv-00290-GMN-VCF (D. Nev. 03/19/13).

Ruling: The District Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding the plaintiff had alleged enough facts to allow the case to proceed.

What it means: When a public higher education institution dismisses a student for academic dishonesty, such as plagiarism, it must give the student due process.

And that due process could include permission for the student to be represented by an attorney at a hearing.

Summary: Sujanie Gamage submitted a dissertation to her advisory committee in the chemistry program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in February 2011.

A chemistry professor filed a report in June 2011 alleging that Gamage’s dissertation contained plagiarized text.

After a hearing, the university’s academic integrity appeal panel found Gamage had committed plagiarism. She was removed from the program.

Gamage sued, disputing the academic misconduct and claiming violation of due process rights because she was prevented from being represented and/or assisted by an advisor at the hearing.

The university filed a motion to dismiss.

The judge said the Due Process Clause prohibited arbitrary deprivations of liberty.

Noting the complaint alleged UNLV prevented her from returning to the university and effectively from being admitted to another higher education institution, he ruled Gamage had adequately pled a deprivation of constitutionally protected interests.

The judge refused to dismiss the case.

You Be the Judge
8/7/2013 12:00 AM
Christopher Reichert enrolled in Ellzabethtown College in the fall of 2007. He informed the college he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a seizure disorder, and learning disabilities in written expression and reading fluency. Reichert encountered difficulties in his sophomore and senior years.

Christopher Reichert enrolled in Ellzabethtown College in the fall of 2007. He informed the college he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a seizure disorder, and learning disabilities in written expression and reading fluency. Reichert encountered difficulties in his sophomore and senior years.

He allegedly had a heated exchange with a professor when he attempted to drop a course. The professor reported the incident to the department chairman and a meeting was arranged to discuss other complaints against Reichert. The chairman concluded Reichert should be expelled because he represented a threat to others.

The provost overruled the chairman’s decision after Reichert and his parents protested. But Reichert claimed the provost and faculty members devised a multipart plan to force him out. Reichert alleged he was denied further accommodations, rumors were spread about him, and faculty members were told to “make a record of all [his] inappropriate behaviors.”

After a meeting between Reichert and the dean of students, the dean scheduled a disciplinary hearing, which was rescheduled because Reichert had a seizure. Additional meetings were scheduled to discuss Reichert’s professional competency and a plagiarism accusation. Because Reichert suffered a mental breakdown, the college allowed him to take a medical leave of absence but told him he had to face those hearings before returning.

Reichert filed a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his civil rights as a person with a disability. He also asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, alleging a conspiracy to violate his civil rights.

Reichert v. Elizabethtown College, et al., No. 10-2248 (E.D. Pa. 04/10/12)

Did the court dismiss the student’s claims?

A. Yes. The court dismissed the claims for violation of civil rights because the university was a private entity and wasn’t acting under color of law.

B. Yes. The court dismissed the claims alleging conspiracy because he couldn’t show that two or more people conspired to have him dismissed.

C. No. The court upheld the claims for violation of civil rights because the university, by virtue of being a recipient of federal funds, acted under color of law.

D. No. The court upheld the conspiracy claim because the allegations were sufficient to establish a possible conspiracy among college officials with the objective of having the student dismissed.

Correct answer: A and D.

The claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 were dismissed because Reichert couldn’t show the college was a “state actor.” But the judge noted Reichert’s allegations established the required elements for the § 1985 claim. Because he alleged the individual defendants held at least one meeting to unlawfully remove him and also asserted other allegations of disability-based discrimination, the judge decided not to dismiss the claim.

Editor’s note: This feature isn’t intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.

Law and Campus
8/1/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: State of Illinois v. Oduwole, No. 5-12-0039 (Ill. App. Ct. 03/06/13).

Ruling: Illinois’ Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s judgment, holding that a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville student was wrongly convicted of attempting to make a terrorist threat.

Case name: State of Illinois v. Oduwole, No. 5-12-0039 (Ill. App. Ct. 03/06/13).

Ruling: Illinois’ Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s judgment, holding that a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville student was wrongly convicted of attempting to make a terrorist threat.

What it means: To prove a charge of attempting to make a terrorist threat, the prosecution must introduce more than just a few writings that appear to be threatening from a student who aspires to be a rap singer, plus weapons without bullets, and the opening of a PayPal account under a pseudonym.

Summary: Olutosin Oduwole, a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, opened a PayPal account under the name “Jeff Robinson” on May 3, 2007. On July 16, the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms informed campus police Oduwole had recently purchased four pistols.

Campus police decided on July 20 Oduwole’s vehicle had been left unattended for more than two days. In accordance with university policy, a campus police officer prepared to tow it away. During a routine inventory of the vehicle’s contents, the officer found bullets in the console.

He also found a piece of paper depicting an inhaler and handwriting. Much of the writing was unconnected words, but it also had the phrase: “SEND 2 to … paypal account if this account doesn’t reach $50,000 in the next 7 days then a murderous rampage similar to the VT shooting will occur at another highly populated university. THIS IS NOT A JOKE!”

Oduwole was immediately arrested and charged with attempting to convey a terrorist threat. A loaded pistol and nearly 2,000 pages of writings were seized from his room pursuant to a search warrant. A large percentage of the entries appeared to be rap lyrics or writings related to aspiring to have a rap career.

A more thorough search of the vehicle uncovered a knit cap with a ski mask hidden behind the back seat. The searches didn’t yield any indication of plans to distribute a threat or ammunition for the handguns Oduwole had purchased.

A forensic specialist concluded the handwriting on the paper was Oduwole’s.

A Microsoft Movie Maker file was found on the hard drive of his computer, but the file had been deleted. However, some captions remained in a compressed drive and the picture files had names of universities such as Harvard University and Penn State.

At his trial, Oduwole produced evidence he was an aspiring rap artist, and an expert testified the handwriting amounted to the beginning of a song.

Oduwole was found guilty of illegally possessing a firearm and attempting to make a terrorist threat. He appealed only the terrorist threat conviction.

The state argued the handwritten phrase on the paper, the creation of the Movie Maker file, and the opening of the PayPal account either individually or collectively was sufficient to support the conviction.

But the appellate court said there was no evidence Oduwole ever had a plan to disseminate the writing on the paper.

And it said PayPal accounts and Movie Maker files weren’t specially designed for unlawful purposes.

Finally, the court found no evidence Oduwole targeted anyone in whom he intended to instill fear. The panel didn’t mention a fake name on his PayPal account or the ski mask hidden in his car.

The panel concluded the evidence merely showed activities consistent with a variety of scenarios. It reversed Oduwole’s conviction.

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  • Meet the Editor

    Claudine McCarthy
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    Claudine brings two decades of extensive and varied experience in journalism and publishing to Student Affairs Today. An award-winning editor, Claudine keeps up with the ever-changing world of student affairs by staying in close contact with experts on various hot topics and by attending professional conferences
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