Monday, February 15, 2010

To neither generalize nor particularize - UAH

There is no point in trying to "make sense" out of things that are by definition senseless, to "find the reason for" things which are without reason. Yet those is what so often, too often, happens in the wake of shootings like the one at University of Alabama.

Here's what I wrote over on Dean Dad:

Well-put and apt. I would certainly agree that the rush to generalize (as in "just another case of...") or particularize (as in "somebody must have made an error somewhere, which, if only identified, could prevent this happening again...") are both equally inapt. As I expressed to a friend, the mainstream media's tendency to try to find some failure of security or record-keeping, some "red flag", which "should have" been a warning signal, proceeds from a unsubstantiated conviction that tragic events are never random and can always be prevented, which is not how the world works.

That said, we both have experience of working in academic bureaucracies (or as bureaucrats) in which we can recognize that certain persons manifest inappropriate responses (e.g., potential "red flags") of varying magnitude. And in a bureaucracy bound by OP's, the path to containing the behavior or terminating the employment of such a person can be very difficult.

I will be interested to see, if we ever hear, any commentary from the tenure committee or other UA-H colleagues about why the shooter might have been denied tenure. It does not appear to have been a problem with productivity (grants recorded around the web) or student satisfaction (as of yesterday, she was well-regarded at ratemyprofessors). Was her tenure denied because of inappropriate conduct? It seems possible.
If there is a lesson, it is that life is short, and unknowable, and that we damned better live our lives with that in mind.

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