Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
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Friday, September 19, 2003

WKU Sued in Attack Case

My ALLTEL - News Story

I just don't get what's happened over the last few years at WKU. They've had a fatal dorm fire and then this very high profile crime in which a freshman was raped, tortured, and killed. All through both these cases, a lot of finger-pointing happened and a lot of assurances were given that the campus was safe.

Still...if I wouldn't feel particularly mollified if I were the parent of a prospective student.

A university cannot guarantee that nothing untoward will happen to their students. Nor is it always a deterrent--the summer before I started my studies at UK an international student was raped and murdered in the Chemistry-Physics building and another woman was killed at a nearby hotel. It didn't keep me from going--but I don't think my family was thrilled to be sending their 17-year-old off given those crimes. And yes, there have been rapes and burgularies and even a sniper, but still...I never felt at risk in my own dorm, even when I lived on the 12th floor or a tower.

But a college does have a mandate to provide at least basic security, and to respond to safety concerns. They receive far too much money in tuition to prevaricate, and those students in housing are paying for that as well. Just as any landlord is responsible for keeping things up to code or risk liability and fines, a college should be held accountable. Unfortunately, public institutions sometimes seem to get around the rules. There was an incident at UK, for example, where two men who were wrestling each other after a few drinks went right through a glass window from one of those aforesaid towers. The laws regarding safety glass have been on the books for longer than they were even alive, but the university was only required to change out glass when a repair was needes. So, the glass broke easily and the young men fell to the concrete plaza below.

Granted, the university was not solely culpable. The young men had been drinking, and well, no offence to their families, but some would call wrestling near a window evolution in action. But it wasn't just stupidity in action. But when a good proportion of your student body is in an age group where the brain still works in a very impulsive way and consequences aren't usually at the top of the list, a little forethought on staid adults is in order.

Anyway, I hope WKU does get through this, and nothing of this magnitude happens to anyone again. But I think that can only happen if people start looking at root causes to what failed in the system and stopped trying to play a blame game. The family obviously feels that a lawsuit may be the only way to get action that would prevent a similar tragedy. That means somewhere, someone failed to respond to their needs.

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