Thursday, February 12, 2009

Virginia Tech Tragedy: A Crisis of Character Exposed

Fortunately, there is one reporter covering the Virginia Tech tragedy whose investigative reporting and tireless pursuit of the facts has revealed a crisis of character at the highest levels of Virginia Tech leadership. Richmond Times-Dispatch Reporter David Ress' determination and fortitude reminds us that deception must never be tolerated and the truth must always be served.

In a Monday, February 9, 2009 article, Mr. Ress and reporter Carlos Santos, uncovered serious inconsistencies between the version of events as reported in the Virginia Tech Panel Report and their findings after review of thousands of documents over the past several months prior to the documents being released to the public on February 10, 2009.

The story, titled Lonely Search for Answers exposes the decision-making deficiencies of Charles W. Steger, President of Virginia Tech and numerous senior level officials. These serious errors in judgment demand that the public not only stand up and take notice but respond with moral indignation:

  • University officials acted to protect themselves while delaying a warning to the campus and that the official reason for the delay was mistaken.
  • University officials pushed to quickly close a fund set up for victims and families even as the school's leaders shifted attention back to a $1 billion fundraising campaign originally put on hold.
  • Alienation by Virginia Tech’s President and senior officials toward families of the victims.
  • Failing to exercise leadership with the most basic principles of crisis management through a lack of empathy, compassion and dignity toward the families of the victims. One parent expresses this frustration through his being directed by a Virginia Tech official to track down his daughter by making his own calls to hospitals and the morgue.
  • Immediate planning (on the very afternoon following the shootings) to scrap an upcoming gala and launch a $1 billion fundraising campaign.
  • Plans within 2 weeks of the tragedy at a meeting of Tech’s most senior officials with a note for a "healing concert offered for September 6 we could charge for outsiders."
  • One of Tech's most senior officials quoted the president of Virginia Tech, Charles W. Steger as planning to close a special fund for the families "as soon as possible... close fund & accept no more gifts... no more $ available for counseling."
  • The failure of Charles W. Steger in not immediately and personally calling all victim families to express condolences. One family reports not being contacted by him until August 9, almost 4 months after the tragedy.
  • The pressure on the families via a form on August 15 requiring them to agree to a funds proposal distribution within 30 days, by September 15.
  • The launching of the Virginia Tech capital project just a few weeks later, on October 20.

Perhaps the insensitivity and derisive treatment from Virginia Tech's President and officials toward the victims families is best expressed by Michael Pohle, whose son, Michael, died in Norris Hall,

"On the day I was burying my son, they were talking about their gala."


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