An open letter to UT administrators concerning the shooter on campus Tuesday.
First off, I would like to commend UTPD, APD, UT President Bill Powers and the rest of those who were in leadership positions and were called to respond to Tuesday’s events. They truly did a commendable job securing the situation and keeping the UT community informed through their extensive communications network.
Also, while I was glued to the radio and computer screen all day and contacting fellow students and faculty, I heard several stories of selfless acts of bravery. From the taxi driver who drove up and down 21st St. warning students and faculty to take cover to the students who directed police to the shooter’s location on the sixth floor of the PCL, I was truly impressed by the way the UT community handled this crisis. They did so calmly, competently and humanely.
But it’s not them I’m worried about.
Too often after tragedies like this administrators and decision makers will “overcorrect”. They want a way to ensure that the people they lead are never as vulnerable again and, as a result, will beef up security to the point that it borders on militarization. Examples of this have played out time and time again with our airports, our border and even at our own state Capitol.
After last fall when a shooter popped off a few rounds on the south steps of the Capitol building, our hawkish legislators have since installed metal detectors at the entrances and stationed automatic rifle-wielding state troopers around the building. What was once a refreshingly open and accessible center of political life in Texas, now is much less welcoming.
Before the new security was enforced, I remember cycling by the Capitol late one night with some out-of-town friends who were shocked at how close we could get to the building. As they stared at the dramatically lit building they kept nervously asking me, “Should we be here?” Maybe they would feel more comfortable at the all-too-familiar scene they would encounter now.
There will inevitably be cries for more stringent security here on campus. However, before those voices gain any real footing, I would like to point out that this gut-level response would not only be costly but would also avoid the root of the problem.
According to UT’s 2010-2011 budget student services, including mental health services, were cut nearly $2 million dollars – just more than 10 percent – in the past year. Now, starting this year, students must pay out of pocket to schedule an individual counseling session or psychiatric appointment.
Clearly, student mental health has been just one of the many programs sacrificed due to necessary budget cuts the state is facing. While all are regrettable, these cuts in particular are simply unconscionable.
Now, I’m not going to be so bold as to claim that throwing some cash into mental health services is going to prevent any future Colton Tooley’s from sending 50,000 people into hiding, especially considering he didn’t make use of any of these services himself. But making sure our students are mentally stable seems a far better strategy than making sure they’ve be scanned by a metal detector or watched over by an armed guard.