What would they do at Virginia Tech if they could go back to last week? What would they do, what should they do, and perhaps most importantly what could they do? We've learned that Cho had been identified as a mentally disturbed student who had stalked and harrassed other students, and had been counseled. We keep hearing that 'he couldn't be forcibly committed,' since he had at that time never actually attacked anyone. And thank God, I might add, in what might seem an inappropriate place to express this thought-- but that's why it's appropriate-- that we don't live in a society where anyone can be locked up because of concerns about what they might do or might be considering.
But that's what makes the story today out of the University of Colorado a classic 'gray area.' Today during a classroom discussion of the Virginia Tech shootings, student Max Karson said that he "understood why someone would kill 32 people." This comment frightened other students in the class, and one female student asked Karson directly if she should fear violence from him if she came to class Thursday. His response, "not this Thursday," (emphasis on the word, 'this,' with the suggestion that she might have to fear it some other Thursday) together with the original comment caused the University of Colorado to have him arrested and taken downtown.
Now, I have trouble understanding why Cho did what he did, but don't get all sanctimonious here-- I've read online over the past few years literally hundreds of comments in which people claim that they 'understand' why the perpetrators would commit mass murders, everything from the Oklahoma City bombing to 9/11 to the Haditha massacre, to the degree that if 'understanding' this is itself an indicator of future violence, then you need look no farther than the comment pages of some blogs to find literally scores of possible future mass murderers.
Karson's second comment is more chilling, with the implication that he might commit violence next Thursday, or the Thursday following, or some other Thursday (or some other day for that matter.) However, this fits a long pattern by Karson. It seems that he has been publishing a newspaper of his own for some time (called the Yeti news, similar to one called the Crux he published when he went to high school in Amherst, Massachusetts.) He has said some truly outrageous things designed to get a rise out of people, and they do. For example, he was once suspended from his high school after he wrote that 'he wouldn't have dated his (male) principal if he knew that he was a 'child molester,' and was defended at that time by the ACLU. Later, while at CU he wrote an article suggesting that women did not feel pain in their breasts or their vagina and describing sex in a manner that many felt lauded and condoned rape.
Max Karson, who bailed himself out, says that everything he says is satire. Some people who know him say that he is much more of a publicity hound than an actual threat. Max's dad, Michael Karson, who is a professor at the nearby University of Denver, defends Max's latest and says that Max was just making an 'academic contribution' to the class. Of course, what else would his Dad say? I'm not sure that I'd want to be in his dad's class though. Next thing he will say was that Cho was just 'donating bullets.' We haven't heard anything on this yet from CU's most controversial academic, Ward Churchill, but I'm sure we will soon.
Now, let's figure debate what the University of Colorado should do. If they do nothing, then they may take some criticism, but they won't have to worry that Max will sic the ACLU on them again (I might add that I in general support the ACLU-- I don't always agree with them, but thank God they are around to stand for people's rights in situations where no one else will.) If the University suspends him or takes other action which could damage Karson academically then they open themselves up to the possiblity of a lawsuit, maybe costing them hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars (remember that Max Karson has never actually hurt anybody.) Then again, if he is another Cho.... (and don't forget this is in Colorado, where the spectre of Columbine still haunts some people.) Then again, how many false alarms is it worth getting sued over in order to prevent one real one-- or do you prevent it? Could taking action like imprisoning a disturbed person end up being the catalyst that actually does push them off the edge.
I'd recommend that people who think 'hindsight is always 20/20' chew on this post. What should the University of Colorado do, within the framework of what is legal, about Max Karson?