On my way to Marywood University at around 3:45 pm on October 4th, as I drove down N. Washington Ave., ten police cars blew by me. I knew there had to be a problem. But I took my usual route and saw no flashing red and blue lights as I got to the parking lot behind the Liberal Arts Center.
And then six cops rounded the corner, one with an AR-15, and they yelled for me to get off of campus. So I drove off, pulled over, and immediately began looking for some phone numbers of my students. I worried that they were inside and in danger.
Because of the swift efforts of local law enforcement, Marywood University avoided a potentially tragic situation. The Scranton, Dunmore, and Throop police departments, along with the State Police, deserve our thanks and praise for quickly handling a reported gunman on campus.
For those who may not know, I adjunct at Marywood University part time. This is something I love and enjoy. Over the course of a half hour, I’ve never felt more palpable worry for my students.
There’s a very specific reason teachers and professors often say “my kids” when talking about our students. I care deeply about them and their well-being. It was harrowing to be barred from the building, unable to make sure myself that they were safe. This is probably silly of me, but the instinct is there. I’m the teacher. I’m the guy who is responsible for ushering my kids through the learning process, and making sure that they are good, well-informed individuals and productive members of society.
They can’t be those things if there’s an armed thug who is “pissed off” and potentially threatening their lives.
I got in touch with two of my students, one whom was prevented from going into the building by police, another who was in my classroom as the chaos began, but assured me they all got out on their own when they saw how dire the situation was.
Marywood evidently does not have an evacuation plan for situations like this. That is a serious problem. And their decision NOT to inform people about what was happening on campus while they knew this was happening is maddening and dangerous and appalling and a total dereliction of their duty to their students and staff. (UPDATE: There are plans. Nobody is trained or aware that they exist, however.)
I hope I never again have to frantically call my students to make sure they know what to do to be safe. To make sure that they are safe and unharmed at all. This is every teacher’s and parent’s nightmare.
And Marywood had the power to help.
Had Marywood utilized their existing emergency notification system, cops wouldn’t have had to tell me and many others not to come onto campus. They could’ve used their time and energy to resolve the situation even more quickly. Had Marywood utilized their existing emergency notification system, little kids at the Fricchione Center wouldn’t have been outside playing while a potentially dangerous gunman with an AR-15 and 200 rounds of ammo was on campus not far from them. Had Marywood utilized their existing emergency notification system, my students wouldn’t have had to speculate and panic and worry and fear.
As of this moment, Marywood still has chosen not to inform its students, faculty, staff, or the community about what happened. The facts are clear and available and the university is neither sharing nor acknowledging them. The only way to learn is through local media. On Marywood’s website, there is nothing. Through their emergency notification system, there was only an all clear urging students to return to class (just about one of the most out-of-touch things to say when students have no clue about what brought law enforcement, guns drawn, bearing down and rumors are all they have to go on). There has been nothing in the form of email communication from the university explaining what happened.
Instead, we were treated to an email entitled “New Day” from Sister Persico, president of the university, who responded thusly to criticisms of her handling of the situation, “I realize you and many of our students and their parents are concerned and even angry that no e2campus alert was received about what was happening. The primary reason for this is that our Marywood Security Team thought first about our students who may have been in danger and moved quickly to the scene, where the individual was apprehended in a matter of minutes. We owe them, as well as the Scranton, Dunmore, and Throop police officers our heartfelt thanks and we cannot underestimate the selflessness of our own campus security in this matter.”
There are a host of issues here, least of which is implying that it was the Marywood Security Team who apprehended the suspect, when it was, in fact, the police. The excuse for not informing students and staff about the incident was because they “thought first about our students in danger” — clearly an attempt to evade responsibility for a mistake. The building I teach in was surrounded by police, not the Marywood Security Team. Many students experienced the same. Instead of being informed, those students were terrified and kept in the dark deliberately.
Campus Security did a wonderful job, that isn’t in question. But they don’t have the training, equipment, or ability to handle this situation. That’s not in their job description. Cops deserve the credit and Marywood fell woefully short.
Local law enforcement (which included State Police, who were not mentioned in the President’s letter) are merely an afterthought. We, first, owe Marywood security. And then we owe Scranton, Dunmore, and Throop. And the selfless ones that cannot be underestimated aren’t the cops who marched into danger. What?
I have many friends and family members in law enforcement, and thankfully they don’t do it to be acknowledged. That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve credit.
What I find particularly egregious, beyond that the University refused to apologize, admit wrongdoing, or even admit they could have done better, was that all of the official correspondence I have recieved involves information such as advice on how to talk to students about what happened and information on the availability of counsellors (both of which are fine and admirable), but absolutely NO mention of the real issue: that there is no lockdown or evacuation protocol in place, that staff, faculty, and students have no idea how to react to situations like this, and that administration completely neglected this essential aspect of the safety of the people in their care. (UPDATE: There is a protocol, Marywood just hasn’t told/trained/drilled anybody.)
These missteps call into question the competence of decision-makers. This serves only to make me uncertain about my own safety, and far more crucially, the safety of my students.
I teach seniors at a local high school. They know I adjunct at Marywood part time. They wanted to know what happened and why. All I had was what Marywood gave me: nothing concrete and the aftertaste of an anxiety-ridden near-nightmare scenario. “Did Marywood evacuate?” No. “Did Marywood go on lockdown?” No. “Did Marywood help keep you safe?” No.
We do these drills at my high school. We have a drill coming up soon. The kids know what to do, the teachers know what to do, the staff knows what to do. It is quite clear that Marywood does not and, based on the public response from the University, it appears that introspection and admission that errors were made isn’t in the cards.
This is an institution of higher learning. It must choose to learn from its mistakes. That cannot happen without the admission of error. I love my alma mater. I love my students. I love my colleagues. I love Marywood.
Marywood just needs to live up to it.
10/19/17 UPDATE: In the days since my post, Marywood has sent an e-mail to faculty and staff acknowledging the issues surrounding the poor handling of the gunman on campus. This is included outlining what went wrong and what steps are being taken to address what occurred. While the e-mail indicates it’s not for public consumption, I was heartened by it.