GWU Faculty Senate Says Fight Campus Shooters With Kumbaya

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GWU Faculty Senate Says Fight Campus Shooters With Kumbaya; Protect Students By Using Deep Empathy, Dignity Enhancement, and Intervention Skills

Kumbaya Is GWU’s Answer To Campus Shooters

WASHINGTON, D.C, (May 24, 2023) – The Faculty Senate of the George Washington University [GWU] is very upset that the administration did not seek their input before deciding that, to protect students and faculty from the ever-growing threat of a crazed shooter, it might be advisable to permit a small number of its police, who are already licensed to carry firearms, to be armed while on campus.

To fight back and defend their claimed prerogatives, especially concerning the decision GWU reached “after more than a year of careful consideration and deliberation, review of safety data and best practices,” the Senate’s members just voted, following a secret session at their May meeting, to submit a resolution at their coming June meeting to “clarity” what they call shared governance principles.

But there are very good reasons why GWU administrators would not seek advice from people who are likely to suggest that Kumbaya (“a term of derision, having been associated with what are considered naïve and unrealistic attitudes”) is the answer to a gunman mowing down students in classrooms.

And that – contrary to the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of universities – arming some police would not help to reduce the carnage, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf who has taught at GWU for more than 50 years.

Although the faculty was not consulted, and had no data or other basis upon which to make a judgment, over 200 of the faculty represented by the Senate – including Senate members and faculty teaching Writing, Arts & Design, Studio Art, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, etc. – did not hesitate to offer their unsolicited advice.

Their suggestions seemed to amount to little more than Kumbaya, says Banzhaf, who, unlike the members of the Senate, has actual experience as a security officer and security consultant, and who recently published a detailed study of how to protect against shooters on campus.

The Faculty’s Advice On How To Deal With A Shooter On Campus

In a letter offering advice on how to deal with a crazed shooter on campus, the faculty opined in typical academic fashion –

“If we seek to broaden the imagination on public safety, have we trained the GWU community as a whole in how to illuminate the dignity of all people (especially in conflict situations), how to practice deep empathy, how to use nonviolent communication, how to de-escalate through active bystander intervention skills and nonviolent self-defense training, as well as the numerous examples of unarmed persons protecting others, ensuring safety, and de-escalating those with weapons?”

As a helpful suggestion, these faculty members also wrote in their letter about protecting against a gunman that “If we seek to broaden the imagination on public safety, have we trained the GWU community as a whole in how to illuminate the dignity of all people (especially in conflict situations).”

But, as Prof Banzhaf points out, deranged-shooter-on-campus situations elsewhere have been resolved by the use of deadly force – either to neutralize the shooter or to pressure him to shoot himself – and not by deep empathy, dignity illumination and enhancement, intervention skills, or nonviolent communication.

These outspoken faculty members also claimed that having some GWU police armed is “more likely to reduce safety rather than enhance it.” But, with all the school shootings which have occurred over at least the past 20 years, they failed to cite a single situation where an armed campus police officer shot a student or faulty member on campus.

Moreover, their conclusion that having police with firearms isn’t an effective means of protection is contrary to the conclusions of the great majority of universities which have wisely chosen to arm some or even all of their campus police, says Banzhaf, noting that 10 out of the 12 institutions GWU considers peer schools have armed police, as have more than 75 percent of universities nationwide.

That’s why the Chronicle of Higher Education quotes an expert in policing and public safety as saying “it is unusual for institutions of George Washington University’s size — 26,457 students and 6,030 staff members — not to have armed police departments. . . . It would be very difficult for a large college or university to claim that they have an orientation toward the safety of their faculty, staff, and students without an armed police department.”

Ironically, one of the protesting GWU faculty members asked (presumably rhetorically): “Where on [GWU’s] campus and in D.C. are the academic centers, like those at Johns Hopkins and Rutgers universities, that dedicate themselves to researching the causes of and solutions to gun violence.”

Prof. Banzhaf’s answer was simple and very telling: “Although – and perhaps even because – Johns Hopkins and Rutgers universities do research about solutions to gun violence, they have both reached the same studied conclusion that one way to reduce gun violence is to arm some of their own police, just as GWU is doing.”

Moreover, the claim that having armed guards does nothing to protect people and discourage criminal violence is also clearly at variance with the conclusions and experience of most universities which now arm their police, and literally thousands of banks, governmental bodies, large corporations, and even individuals (from the President to movie stars) who are concerned about attacks from gunman and other criminals, and therefore have armed guards.

There are other important and valid reasons for not always consulting the Faculty Senate regarding non-academic matters – those where its faculty members have little or no expertise or experience – such as insuring safety on campus.

Enhancing Faculty Safety

Another important reason is that the Senate has strangely refrained from playing any role in enhancing faculty safety at GWU.

For example, when the GWU Student Association and the GWU Student Bar Association unanimously endorsed a proposal – based upon the suggestions of dozens of expert national organizations – that classrooms should have locks capable of being locked from the inside (so professors would not be forced to step outside and expose themselves to an active shooter) the Senate refused to take a position.

Ironically and to reinforce how divorced many faculty are from safety concerns, once GWU did adopt a system where each classroom was equipped with its own emergency button which would lock its doors in the event of an active-shooter-on-campus alert, a faculty senator said that he polled 20 faculty members about their awareness of the emergency buttons, and reported that none of them were even aware that the buttons existed – so they probably would not know enough to push the button in an emergency to protect themselves and their students.

Similarly, following a sexual assault on an employee in an underground GWU garage, it was proposed that doors leading from the street to the garage should be locked from the outside to prevent vagrants and others from continuing to enter and remain hidden in the stairwells – a safety concern GWU was well aware of. Although this safety improvement would primarily benefit the faculty – who are entitled to park in the garage – rather than students, the Senate likewise refused to support the proposal.

The Senate also did not endorse other campus safety proposals which were later adopted, in whole or in part, by GWU. These included banning demonstrations by masked students carrying flaming torches (following the tragic events at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville), permitting faculty who requested them to have peepholes in office doors similar to those universally found in hotels and motels after a professor was killed in his office by an armed student, etc.

They have also not even discussed, much less acted upon, very simple and inexpensive measures, recommended in a major published report they have received, on how universities can and should protect against campus shooters. These include:

  • having forced-entry tools readily available to breach doors behind which a gunman might be lurking (and even shooting students), as well as for many other clearly foreseeable emergency situations involving locked or stuck doors on campus.
  • providing a system so that students hiding from a gunman and afraid of being heard can text – rather than risk speaking into their cell phones – important information to school authorities.
  • following the lead of the University of Maryland and have kits to stop the arterial bleeding (which often cause death before outside help can arrive) typically caused by bullets from AR-15 type weapons often used by campus shooters.

If GWU’s faculty members truly wish to be consulted about safety measures for their campus, they should not be making suggestions to protect against crazed shooters by using unrealistic new-age concepts such as deep empathy, dignity illumination and enhancement, intervention skills, and nonviolent communication, and not arming some or all of their police with guns as most universities and other institutions have.

Also, faculty members who are totally ignorant of measures already put in place to protect themselves and their students against campus shooters obviously should not expect to be consulted about possible new ones, argues Banzhaf.