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University Student Expelled Over Creative Writing Paper?

[UPDATE: See here for more information that makes me much less troubled about the University's action.] Troubling, if this account is reasonably complete. It's hard to tell more without learning about the context, including whether the student had some misconduct in his background, or otherwise showed himself to be a serious threat. But this does seem to merit some more looking into, especially since we're not just talking about the university's investigating a student (which I think officials must have a lot of flexibility to do), or even temporarily suspending him, but expelling him altogether.

Thanks to Duc Vu for the pointer.

UPDATE: I should note that if the student was expelled because his possession of handguns in his car (with a concealed weapons permit) violated state law or some school policy (presumably because the car was parked on campus), that would make the matter less troublesome — I don't think such a ban would be wise, but a school might nonetheless legitimately enforce it. Nonetheless, expulsion would still strike me an excessive remedy; nor would protecting the university from the possibility that he would turn into a Virginia-Tech-style mass killer justify this: If he really does plan to commit mass murder, he could do that as an expelled student pretty much as easily as an enrolled student (since the school doubtless doesn't have guards at each possible entrance to keep him off campus).

FURTHER UPDATE: (1) School authorities report that "Though the guns found in the car might have violated school rules, it did not violate state law."

(2) "The fictional essay, as well as the guns found in the car, convinced Scott County Commonwealth's Attorney Marcus McClung to have a judge revoke Barber's concealed-weapons permit, which allows him to carry hidden guns through Virginia.... McClung ... successfully argued to a judge last week that Barber should not legally have the permit since he was 'involuntarily committed' [because of the school's investigation] ...." Query whether this shows that the school's investigation did uncover some evidence of mental illness, or whether it simply shows that the permit was automatically revoked simply because of the school-triggered commitment.

(3) The creative writing class involved is taught by Christopher Scalia, who is apparently Justice Scalia's son.

Thanks to Dave Wegener for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on the U.Va.-Wise Expulsion:
  2. University Student Expelled Over Creative Writing Paper?
FantasiaWHT:
I feel sorry for university administrations right now, trying to tread the line between stopping VA Tech-style rampages and protecting students' rights. Both are important, and it's hard to second-guess the administration.
3.12.2008 4:56pm
Anderson (mail):
Comments to the story suggest that the gun possession, not the story, may've been the expulsion "trigger" (ha, ha) -- tho if that's the case, we then move on to the reasonableness of such a search based on one creative-writing paper.
3.12.2008 5:08pm
Hoosier:
“involuntarily transported”

That's a new one on me.

But Fantasia seems to have it right: The admin here is in a real bind when it comes to balancing student privacy and student safety. Getting hammered for a violation of a student's FERPA rights is far more likely, but a killing is far more devastating. So the admins don't know which way to lean.
3.12.2008 5:10pm
More importantly...:

Though no weapons were found, Barber told campus police he had three handguns in his car, and a concealed weapons permit for each


UVA-Wise has a policy banning all firearms from campus, which is where his car was while it had his guns it it.

Can we say state CCL license versus policy of public entity supremacy challenge?
3.12.2008 5:14pm
Doc W (mail):
"it's hard to second-guess the administration."

Well, it's not at all hard to second-guess the university's weapons policy. Virginia has a pistol carry permit law. At VA-Tech the university administration chose nevertheless to ban guns on campus. A bill that would have overridden the university's policy died in the legislature due to the university administration's opposition. Later, as we know, a single armed gunman was able to go through a classroom building methodically killing the defenseless occupants.

I my experience, university administrators often seem more concerned with form than with substance when it comes to protecting the safety of the students and faculty.
3.12.2008 5:18pm
George Weiss (mail) (www):
"Barber is confident a court of law will allow him to be reinstated at UVA-Wise. He also admits the experience could hinder his dreams of eventually entering law school."


good freken grief
3.12.2008 5:19pm
pgepps (www):
Would sure be helpful to have more details. Your linked article indicates that the investigation from the paper (which does seem a bit heavy-handed, but . . . ugh) turned up no weapons in his room, but three in his car. While he legally possessed the weapons (2nd Amendment and otherwise), having them in the car on school property would be pretty harshly dealt with under current circumstances. And the school would be within its rights, probably, and behaving understandably (though perhaps in this case regrettably).
3.12.2008 5:25pm
George Weiss (mail) (www):
ive posted about this on my blog

whats needed is clear legislative guidance so that courts don't make the decisions about what was reasonable in hindsight.

why should you don't have incidents where students are forced off the campus after simply going to a psychologist on the one hand (see here)

...and not kicked out even though they are refusing court mandated mental health treatment and have been involuntarily hospitalized before (va tech)
3.12.2008 5:25pm
More importantly...:

A bill that would have overridden the university's policy died in the legislature


Question is, absent state law limiting CCL from applying on the UVA-Wise campus, can the school (a public, not a private, entity) prohibit CCL holders from carrying there? Possibly separate question, can they at least expel students who choose to carry there?
3.12.2008 5:48pm
CheckEnclosed (mail):
If student X shoots up other students &faculty after University Y knows that he has written something with a violent subject matter, and that he has firearms, the victims &their families will sue University Y for a very very large amount of money. If University Y merely tramples on the rights of student X, he might sue for a medium size amount of money. Isn't divining the institutional response a no-brainer?
3.12.2008 5:51pm
Elliot123 (mail):
I wonder if they monitor students who check out library books that depict or advocate violence? Couldn't the enterprising survivors of a student killed by the avid reader also sue?
3.12.2008 6:00pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Better not get caught carrying around "All Quiet on The Western Front".
3.12.2008 6:05pm
wfjag:

UVA-Wise has a policy banning all firearms from campus, which is where his car was while it had his guns it it.


Does anyone know what the UVA-Wise Student Handbook actually says? Usually those spell out "offenses" subject to discipline and the types of penalties that can be imposed for various levels of "offenses" and repeated misconduct, etc. Expulsion is generally the most serious penalty. Unless UVA-Wise's has a published policy that says something like no way, no how, no place can firearms be brought on campus, even if the person has a valid permit for it, and any violation will result in expulsion, UVA-Wise's likely is on weak grounds. However, if it has that type of explicit, published policy, then the student is likely toast. Generally the courts analyze these cases under contracts principles -- so what's actually written in published policies is very important (even if college administrators not infrequently fail to either read their own policies or consult with the college's counsel before either publishing policies or taking action). Broad, vague generalities don't tend to protect the school.

Of course, you can't tell how accurate the account is. The fact that the student tells a tale of woe to the press doesn't waive his/her privacy rights under FERPA.

"[I]f this account is reasonably complete" then it is "troubling." However, it may also be a statement drafted by counsel, and more of an advocate's talking points to create sympathy prior to filing suit.
3.12.2008 6:08pm
Dick Eagleson:
Am I the only one wondering if his status as an Iraq War veteran perhaps influenced the UV's deliberations? The crazed, wacko veteran meme has been a staple for three decades in show business, another sector of American life dominated by those with left-wing politics.
3.12.2008 6:09pm
Suzy (mail):
There's not enough information to pass judgment on this. He had written a story about a murder before, and we don't know what might have transpired in class or between the student and professor or other students that could be relevant here. (He also should lay off comparisons between himself and Shakespeare, if persuasiveness is the goal.)
3.12.2008 6:16pm
FantasiaWHT:
CheckEnclosed, don't forget the university's potential liability if he "just" kills himself.
3.12.2008 6:33pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Of course, you can't tell how accurate the account is. The fact that the student tells a tale of woe to the press doesn't waive his/her privacy rights under FERPA.

"[I]f this account is reasonably complete" then it is "troubling." However, it may also be a statement drafted by counsel, and more of an advocate's talking points to create sympathy prior to filing suit.


Good point, it’s always wise to keep in mind that when these sorts of stories break out that usually the aggrieved individual has a lot more freedom to spin their side of the dispute in the media whereas institutions are usually hamstrung by all sorts of internal policies and external regulations that restrict their ability to respond in kind. Particularly if the aggrieved individual is part of a group (e.g. student, employee, patient, veteran, etc.) that enjoys certain extra statutory protections.

It could be that what this fellow said is the unvarnished truth or it could be that there is another side that the University isn’t sharing because it cannot that makes their position more reasonable than it appears at first glance. Or the truth could be somewhere in the middle – the student did more than he’s telling (but the university cannot publicly disclose what) but the university’s reaction may have been overly harsh. I don’t know enough either way but there’s no shame in adopting a wait and see attitude.
3.12.2008 6:33pm
Gilbert (mail):
I just wish the student had something slightly more intelligent to say than:


"It's the nanny state ran amock; political correctness to the extreme."


He wrote a paper which created a reasonable belief in the administration that he was a danger to himself and his professors. Expulsion is a bad response but it is neither the "Nanny State" (usually referring to social welfare programs) nor "political correctness" (usually referring to people being coerced to suppress politically divisive positions). It was a stupid response to a rational fear of actual harm.
3.12.2008 6:39pm
The General:
Violent essay = police search of dorm room. Disturbing. If a female had written it would they have treated her like this guy - a war vet? Nope.

Moreover, if this school did have a Va-Tech style situation on its hands, guys like this one who would be in a unique position to stop the gunman, perhaps before too many people get killed.
3.12.2008 6:44pm
jxr (mail):
An earlier news report:
http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/153720

In the comments discussion of the article at

http://opencarry.mywowbb.com/forum54/8829.html
poster "capablanca911" is the student involved.

After the initial interviews it seems that the forced evaluation (TDO) was uncalled for.

And it is hard to see how a fiction writing could be probable cause for a judge to issue a warrent to search the car.
3.12.2008 6:58pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

And it is hard to see how a fiction writing could be probable cause for a judge to issue a warrent to search the car.
When I was in junior high, I wrote a very good short story about the theft of the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps, based on the contents, they could have searched my locker for helicopters
3.12.2008 7:09pm
George Lyon (mail):
Gilbert. He wrote a work of fiction likely less violent than half the network TV shows. As a result of that the school had him involuntarily committed for three days for observation at the looney bin. I'd say that was something run amock. As to the guns, in Virginia, a concealed handgun permit holder can walk onto the campus and break no law. In fact, one can open carry. The university can only regulate weapons possession of its students and staff and that is at least an open question under the second amendment, the Virginia's constitution and Virginia's preemption laws. Nevertheless, I'm informed Wise has the following "weapons storage" regulation set forth in its student handbook:

"WEAPONS STORAGE POLICY

Purpose: This policy provides rules and regulations concerning the possession and storage of firearms and archery equipment on the property of The University of Virginia‘s College at Wise. WEAPONS MUST BE CHECKED IN TO THE UVA-WISE CAMPUS POLICE IMMEDIATELY UPON ARRIVAL TO COLLEGE PROPERTY BY CALLING (276) 328-2677. Storage and Related Procedures:

Rifles, shotguns, paintball guns and archery equipment will only be stored during the first week prior to hunting season and one week after the appropriate season. Special arrangements will be made upon request.

Two forms of ID must be presented at check-in and check out.

The check out sheet must be signed by both the officer and gun owner.

All weapons must be unloaded and ammunition must be separate, either in case or other appropriate means.

All weapons must be in case or sleeve.

Automatic weapons or semi-automatic (assault weapons) are not permitted on College property.

Campus Police reserves the right of issuance of any stored firearm if in the judgment of the Officer on duty that the release of the weapon is detrimental to the safety of the College community."

Never knew anyone could hunt with a paint ball gun.
3.12.2008 7:12pm
George Lyon (mail):
I want to correct the previous post. He was not involuntarily committed, he was subject to a temporary detention order.
3.12.2008 7:14pm
anym_avey (mail):
Given the general mood in Colorado following Columbine, which occurred just ten miles or so from where I was attending college at the time, I can sympathize with the utterly freaked out condition the UVa-Wise administrators must find themselves in as a result of being so near to the VaTech tragedy, especially with the similar incident having just happened in Chicago.

Unfortunately, campus administrators being what they are in general, the possibility that a gun ban doesn't actually ban guns, but merely creates large rooms full of law-abiding soft targets, is unlikely to ever diffuse through the five-inch neoprene bag that is too typically superglued around the neckline of these folks.
3.12.2008 7:49pm
He's Dumb:
This guy was taking a writing class from a professor named Christopher.

The main character in his story fantasizes about killing his writing professor "Mr. Christopher."

Regardless of any actual plan on his part to kill anybody, the guy is a damned moron if he thought his story wouldn't alarm anybody.
3.12.2008 7:52pm
More importantly...:
Anyone else find it damn scary that a successful argument was made that he should lose a CCL (or any other right) because he was subjected to State-ordered mental health testing on the basis of his writings?
3.12.2008 7:59pm
wfjag:
George:

Thanks for the info on UVA-Wise's "Weapons Storage Policy". However, what's the penalty for violating it?

However, since the student had handguns in his car and a concealed weapons permit from the state, I'm not sure I see a violation of the Weapons Storage Policy, which doesn't mention handguns (so apparently they aren't covered by it), and aren't barred by the provision that "Automatic weapons or semi-automatic (assault weapons) are not permitted on College property."

If being a jerk to a cop during a traffic stop, and turning and walking away from him, so he tazes you is worth $40K in Utah, you have to wonder what this guy's case may be worth. He's not in the Duke Lacrosse Players league on damages, but it's very possible that UVA-Wise has figured out how to pay off his student loans and fund the rest of his education. Not a bad return on investment for one creative writing class paper.
3.12.2008 8:05pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
I'm thinking there were signs in the classroom that that student was not all that creative.

I can understand how the prof might have thought fiction was too close to reality. I was strolling in the city once with some family members, when we came across a black man with what appeared to be a metal pancake turner stuck in his Afro. The man was singing to himself. While I was trying to figure out why he had a metal pancake turner stuck in his hair, he began to include our group in his song, including my 12 year old niece. Next, he incorporated what he planned to do with us into his song. Then we got the hell out of there.
3.12.2008 8:08pm
More importantly...:
FYI, wfjag, most handguns are semiautomatic.
3.12.2008 8:10pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Anyone else find it damn scary that a successful argument was made that he should lose a CCL (or any other right) because he was subjected to State-ordered mental health testing on the basis of his writings?

Yes, taking these facts at face value. However I would bet that in real life this guy comes across as fairly scary. As "He's Dumb" indicates, the author seems to lack the social awareness to realize that armed students who write about killing their writing teacher by name would naturally alarm the teacher and the administration. At a minimum he could have defused the situation before passing out the story.
3.12.2008 8:13pm
More importantly...:

Yes, taking these facts at face value. However I would bet that in real life this guy comes across as fairly scary. As "He's Dumb" indicates, the author seems to lack the social awareness to realize that armed students who write about killing their writing teacher by name would naturally alarm the teacher and the administration. At a minimum he could have defused the situation before passing out the story.


I agree wholeheartedly; none of that mitigates the fact that a State lawyer convinced a judge that it was legally relevant that this man was taken to a mental hospital on the basis of a written work and then released days later with a 100% clear bill of health.
3.12.2008 8:26pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"He wrote a paper which created a reasonable belief in the administration that he was a danger to himself and his professors."

What makes it a reasonable belief? Is it reasonable to believe Stephen King is a danger to himself and others? Dostoevsky? How about the thousands of people involved in Hollywood productions? Video game programmers and producers? CBS is broadcating Dexter about a cop who is a serial killer. How about producers of the movies where the college kids get killed at the lake? Is it reasonable to think all these people are dangers to themselves and others?

It would be reasonable if all these folks had a history of harming themselves and others. But do we see that? If not, it would appear to be an unreasonable belief. So, if the belief is not based on the ample experience we have with people who write, produce, and act in depictions of violence, on what is it based?
3.12.2008 8:44pm
TomHynes (mail):
What is the most important rule I learned in law school? Don't talk to the cops.

"Oh - you are searching my room for guns? None here, but I have three pretty cool ones in my car. Wanna see?"
3.12.2008 9:03pm
whit:
"What is the most important rule I learned in law school? Don't talk to the cops."

ridiculous.

just a few days ago i responded to a stabbing between two brothers. the stabber was (rightly) detained. he spoke to the police. based on his statement (primarily) and some corroborating evidence, he was released, and his brother (the stabbing victim) was arrested for assaulting the stabber, since the stabber only stabbed him in self defense.

i see this all the time in this website and elsewhere and its asinine advice and disregards reality.

certainly, if you are innocent, its often a great help to talk to the police. and sometimes when you are guilty.

but the blanket idea to not talk to the police is stupid.

on the subject of this case - it's asinine, but typical of our campus thought police administrations.

was bell hooks a university employee when she wrote her essay about wanting to kill the white man in the seat next to her in an airplane? i can guarantee you if she was, she wouldn't have been kicked out of her university job or involuntarily committed for saying that, nor should she.

as always, the pendulum swings too far. i totally agree with Elliot. it's a frigging CREATIVE WRITING ASSIGNMENT.

Apparently, all creative writing assignments (this is not the first example of this kind of stupidity) need to be prefaced with "be creative but don't write anything scary."

Could HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, or Clive Barker survive in the modern academy?
3.12.2008 9:18pm
whit:
i still don't understand how a PUBLIC UNIVERSITY can punish a student for exercising his civil right by carrying a concealed weapon pursuant to virginia state law and his CPL.

a private university? yes. but a PUBLIC ONE?

fwiw, when i went to grad school (brief as it was) i carried my gun concealed in violation of policy. if they caught me and wanted to expel me - fine.

they didn't.
3.12.2008 9:23pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Question is, absent state law limiting CCL from applying on the UVA-Wise campus, can the school (a public, not a private, entity) prohibit CCL holders from carrying there? Possibly separate question, can they at least expel students who choose to carry there?


Viginia law is not particularly well-written on this matter. The relevant texts are that : "The granting of a concealed handgun permit shall not thereby authorize the possession of any handgun or other weapon on property or in places where such possession is otherwise prohibited by law or is prohibited by the owner of private property." The relevant laws against carrying a weapon on school property only include elementary, middle, and high schools, and also exempt "a person who has a valid concealed handgun permit and possesses a concealed handgun while in a motor vehicle in a parking lot, traffic circle, or other means of vehicular ingress or egress to the school."

So it's obviously not against the law.

What can the school do? Without any Constitutional protection for a specific subject or item, the only real requirement is that of rational basis — I'll try not to spoil the ending here, but a ban on handguns is about as likely to fail that test as JF Thomas is to provide a meaningful, truthful, and useful post on this subject. There's no federal right to bear arms precedent, and unlike West Virginia, Virginia's right to bear arms is both very recent and not directly enough to provide any meaningful protection these days. Handguns in a car about also about as likely to be considered inherently expressive (their ability to make several profound arguments rather quickly aside) and non-disruptive as Spitzer going into gay porn. Same as banning heating pads.

There is no statutory ban on banning handguns from publicly-funded places in Virginia.

If Heller goes well for the pro-gun side, he might have a decent chance in challenging things. While there are no real odds of him being the case to get the 2nd Amendment integrated, as there are statutory bans on the use of the 'color of law' to intimidate or prevent people from using their protected rights, he might be able to get some sort of agreement that way. Even that'd be a hell of a long shot.

As for those attacking the text, especially if the student's statement about another person's story describing a murder, expelling the student for said text would be a rather obvious violation of the right to freedom of speech. I know 'fruit of the poison tree' hasn't been recognized as a particularly strong argument, but that still must have been a hell of an interesting warrant session.

I like that the cops were able to 'involuntarily commit' him — note that this aspect means he will never be able to own a firearm of any type in the future, thus preventing him from reenlisting, if the police officers report it as such to the FBI. Nice to know there are ever so many checks and balances on that particular law.
3.12.2008 9:33pm
whit:
i've involuntarily committed dozens and dozens of people.

at least where i come from , you gotta be an imminent threat to yourself or somebody else. obviously there IS subjectivity there, but it's not a gimme by any means.

i find that generally speaking, when family members call about a person they are concerned with, for instance, they are very often dissapointed that we can NOT commit somebody. they feel the evidence is "enough" but very frequently it's not.

actively hurting yourself (slitting wrist, etc.) is usually good, and making explicit statements that you are going to kill yourself, etc. are often enough too.

i can't imagine how writing a fictional story in a creative writing class could EVER justify involuntary commitment. not saying it's not possible, but it strains my mind to imagine how.
3.12.2008 9:42pm
tarheel:
I suspect that the school's response is not totally unrelated to the identity of the professor. Writing a story that could (very) arguably be seen as a veiled threat against your teacher, who happens to be the son of a Supreme Court Justice, is pretty much begging for a response from law enforcement.
3.12.2008 9:59pm
PersonFromPorlock:
whit:

...not saying it's not possible, but it strains my mind to imagine how.

Ah, that extra grasp is why we have college administrators.

Clayton E. Cramer:

When I was in junior high, I wrote a very good short story about the theft of the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps, based on the contents, they could have searched my locker for helicopters

Hm... I doubt that's quite what Jefferson meant by "liberty above all." ;^)
3.12.2008 10:15pm
More importantly...:

where such possession is otherwise prohibited by law or is prohibited by the owner of private property


Virginia law is fairly clear, actually. No law prohibits handguns on UVA-Wise's campus, and no private property owner is present here.

Hence my question: doesn't a public university, which rules that no student may exercise their CCL on grounds, violate the State's supremacy just as much as does a city, a county, or a town (located in the CCL issuing state) that passes an ordinance to the effect that no person, CCL notwithstanding, may legally carry a handgun within its borders?
3.12.2008 10:26pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
In Seattle, a somewhat odd-behaving CCW permittee was suspended from community college for a year for carrying a gun on campus.
3.12.2008 10:37pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Writing a story that could (very) arguably be seen as a veiled threat against your teacher, who happens to be the son of a Supreme Court Justice, is pretty much begging for a response from law enforcement."

Should students pay attention to the relatives of their professors, and change ther behavior accordngly? Why?

How about the rest of us? Do we have an obligation to acquaint ourselves with the family of those we encounter? Do those related to famous people have special privleges we must recognize? If there is no outward sign of authorized protection like the Secret Service or police guard, is it our responsibility to determine who is an aristocrat?

If students should determine the pedigree of their professors, doesn't that imply an obligation on the university to make such information well publicized.
3.12.2008 10:51pm
R. Richard Schweitzer (mail):
Possibly self-serving, but did anyone notice his chief concern:

Paying off his student loans!
3.12.2008 11:05pm
tarheel:

Should students pay attention to the relatives of their professors, and change ther behavior accordngly?

In a perfect world, no. In the real world, sadly yes. What leads to a knock on the door when you hand it to Jenna Bush or Chelsea Clinton or Chris Scalia probably does not when addressed to John or Jane Q.

I wish that was a debatable proposition, but it isn't.
3.12.2008 11:14pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Paying off his student loans!


If you had a year or more worth of student loans, I expect they'd be fairly predominately on your mind, as well.
3.12.2008 11:59pm
More importantly...:
Also, those loans are now in immediate repayment, since he's no longer enrolled. Ow.
3.13.2008 12:09am
one of many:
I am also puzzled why an involuntary commitment is possible under such low standards in Va. AND is justifiable for revocation of a CCW permit. Various standards exist throughout the states on involuntary commitments and Va. apparently has some pretty low ones, but how can such low a low standard involuntary commitment justify revocation of a CCW permit?
3.13.2008 12:16am
Bob from Ohio (mail):
I hope the guy gets a good lawyer. So many good issues.

1. State entity has him arrested based on a state assigned writing.

2. Similar writings by others do not result in arrest.

3. State entity expels him based on perhaps illegal policy. U is not a "private" owner so cannot ban CC permit holders (probably).

4. Are all semi-autos banned or only semi-autos that are "assault weapons" banned? His handguns may have been revolvers which are not semi-autos. Assault weapons are military used rifles though I'm sure the U meant "scary looking weapons".

5. State uses its own questionable acts to serve as basis for revocation of valuable property right. (Ex parte?--can't tell.)

6. State acts like Soviet Union. (ok, not a legal issue, just what this reminds me of.)

Maybe the U was within its rights but a well argued case before a federal judge would be helpful in sorting this out.
3.13.2008 12:34am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Various standards exist throughout the states on involuntary commitments and Va. apparently has some pretty low ones, but how can such low a low standard involuntary commitment justify revocation of a CCW permit?


Under Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:2; 18.2-308.1:3, any involuntary commitment, under any means, results in not only the revocation of a CCW permit, but also bans the purchase, possession, or transport of any firearm. There is a mechanism to get those overturned, but it's a mess to try and do.

The fun thing is that the actual statute 'looks' like it'd only prohibit purchase, possession, or transport of a firearm during the period of involuntary commitment, but legal cases have made it clear that isn't the case (hence the prohibition on transportation and purchase, and the need for a mechanism to get a ruling changed).

VA's system of setting up involuntary commitments isn't abnormal, but it is pretty bad. It does require a magistrate to actually "okay" the initial temporary detention, requiring said person to find that evidence suggests that the targeted individual "(i) has mental illness, (ii) presents an imminent danger to himself or others as a result of mental illness or is so seriously mentally ill as to be substantially unable to care for himself, (iii) is in need of hospitalization or treatment, and (iv) is unwilling to volunteer or incapable of volunteering for hospitalization or treatment" or "(i) the person has been personally examined within the previous 72 hours by an employee or a designee of the local community services board or (ii) there is a significant physical, psychological, or medical risk to the person or to others associated with conducting such evaluation."

It's not clear whether the above counts as an involuntary commitment of its own; it very much seems to depend on the local police officers and court system. Once they've slapped the crazy uniform on you, they can hold you up to 48 hours (longer near a holiday or weekend) without getting a hearing. At said hearing, it's not a question of how crazy you really are; it's whether you'll get voluntary treatment or not. If it's decided that you would not voluntarily go into the loony bin, then the district or special judge gets the bailiff to toss you into the loony bin.

It's an interesting definition of voluntary, but not particularly bad compared to the other states.
3.13.2008 1:27am
one of many:
gattsuru, now you've open a whole 'nother can of worms, given the evidence presented I have difficulty understanding how a TDO (temporary detention order?) got issued in the first place. wait, 'sugests' in the statute is a real low standard, no TDO should have been issued. but if the standard for TDOs is so low, then serious 2nd amendment and Va. constitutional questions come into existence. can you imagine if freedom of speech were prohibited to people for whom evidence 'sugests' they might engage in heated arguments?

6 years ago I couldn't get an involuntary commitment PCO (protective custody order) issued on someone with well documented mental illnesses based upon suicidal statements without an accompaning act. wow, the standards vary so much between the states, I have difficulty believing in any standard as low as the apparent Va. one.
3.13.2008 2:25am
musefree (www):
I blogged about it here.

I agree with Whit above - "can't imagine how writing a fictional story in a creative writing class could EVER justify involuntary commitment."

Disturbing. I hope the guy goes to court and sues the hell out of them.
3.13.2008 3:09am
SusanC:

given the evidence presented I have difficulty understanding how a TDO (temporary detention order?) got issued in the first place


We don't know if he was showing obvious symptoms of schizophrenia. A psychiatrist seeing serious schizophrenic symptoms + guns brought to school + an essay in which he imagined a school shooting might reasonable conclude that there was serious cause for concern.
3.13.2008 6:25am
musefree (www):
According to reports, supported by some comments in the linked article, Steven Barber was outgoing, friendly and had never shown any signs of violence or mental illness.
3.13.2008 7:17am
PersonFromPorlock:
SusanC:

A psychiatrist seeing serious schizophrenic symptoms + guns brought to school + an essay in which he imagined a school shooting might reasonable conclude that there was serious cause for concern.

No cite, just memory, but I seem to recall a study that showed psychiatrists tend to 'find' the disorders patients are presented to them as having. If nothing else, the combination of guns plus essay might incline the psychiatrist to see schizophrenia as the 'safe' (for him) diagnosis.
3.13.2008 7:35am
Angus:
According to reports, supported by some comments in the linked article, Steven Barber was outgoing, friendly and had never shown any signs of violence or mental illness.


That's a pretty normal response, even when the subject is a multiple murderer. "But he seemed so nice." "He was just a regular friendly guy."

To me, this case begins and ends with the fact that Barber wrote at fantasy about murdering his professor, not just in the abstract, but that particular writing professor by name. That pretty much constitutes a death threat against the teacher.
3.13.2008 8:20am
Alex R:
I can't imagine that the fact that the Virginia Tech killer, Seung Cho, had been known for the violence and anger in his writing assignments, was far from the administrators minds.
3.13.2008 9:22am
Sean M:
I agree that naming the professor "Mr. Christopher" when the professor he had was Christopher Scalia is certainly enough to raise red flags.

But really, if you were in a creative writing class and were mentally stable, wouldn't you realize that writing a story about how a student thinks about killing his writing professor was not a good idea?
3.13.2008 10:41am
wfjag:

FYI, wfjag, most handguns are semiautomatic.


More importantly: You'd be pressed to prove that statement is factual -- in addition to revolvers, there are a large, and increasingly popular market, for personal defense weapons classified as "derringers" that are large caliber. See, e.g., the Bond Arms website. I'm not sure I'd personally want to shoot an over-under firing a .40 cal S &W round (since I don't want to possibly dislocate my thumb), but many have interchangable barrels. The .38/.375 barrel is quite popular since .38 rounds can be fired for practice, and are much cheaper and have less kick than the .375 rounds that can be loaded other times, when you might not be as concerned about the kick.

Even amoung pistols that load semi-automatically, some are double action, and most are double action for the first shot. So, to make the argument you do, you get into a fairly complex analysis of what is meant by "semi-automatic" -- as well as trying to justify ignoring the modifying phrase in parenthesis "(assault weapons)".

As reported, the Weapons Storage Policy bans “Automatic weapons or semi-automatic (assault weapons)". Semi-automatic pistols are not considered "assault weapons". If the student's "handguns" turns out to include a MAC-10, I'll agree that any reasonable reading of the Policy banned it from campus. However, if they are something like a Glock Model 21-C, while a heavy caliber semi-automatic pistol, it isn't an "assault weapon".

Unless Virginia's law is very different from most States' (which I haven't researched in this area), the courts apply contract doctrines in intrepreting the rights of the school and student as to disciplinary actions. However, since colleges and universities are (supposedly) full of well-educated academics who (supposedly) can write clearly and precisely, and who (supposedly) consult with the school's counsel when drafting policies and conducting disciplinary actions, generally, if the school's policy doesn't explicitly prohibit conduct, the school is liable for disciplining a student on that basis.

The Weapons Storage Policy explicitly refers to "Rifles, shotguns, paintball guns and archery equipment" and “Automatic weapons or semi-automatic (assault weapons)". It doesn't appear to be a reasonable inference that it applies to handguns of any type (except machine pistols, which are fully automatic), including semi-automatic pistols.

If the "facts" reported on this matter are at all accurate, there appears to be a strong plaintiff's case, both for injunctive relief and damages.
3.13.2008 10:43am
ParatrooperJJ (mail):
He was not comitted. He was given a 72 hr hold. His permit was not revoked by a judge, it was revoked by the issuing authority, it will be reissued when he takes a copy of the hearing report where he was found sane to the issuing authority. As to the guns on campus, the VA Attorney General has issued a opinion that colleges can not ban permit holders from carrying concealed.
3.13.2008 11:08am
CloverKicnPic (mail):
"Not only was there the previous high school essay, but Barber has a recent conviction for being drunk in public and also was charged with assault and trying to break into another student’s room. The latter charges were dismissed."


I do not know the details of the high school essay, except for the fact that he made a perfect score. However, I do know that this is libel, for he was not convicted in this situation. He was not seen as violent or threatening; this was an alcohol-related incident.
3.13.2008 11:32am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
But really, if you were in a creative writing class and were mentally stable, wouldn't you realize that writing a story about how a student thinks about killing his writing professor was not a good idea?


If the statement about a previous story written by someone detailed a killing of the woman's boyfriend -- not an in-story fantasy of it, but a detailed description of an in-story event -- is true, I don't think he'd be particularly out-of-line.

I don't think that makes it a good idea, but it likewise doesn't make it particularly actionable.
3.13.2008 11:46am
Elliot123 (mail):
"A psychiatrist seeing serious schizophrenic symptoms + guns brought to school + an essay in which he imagined a school shooting might reasonable conclude that there was serious cause for concern."

Has it been established there were serious schizophrenic symptoms? If the creative writing paper itself is a symptom, is it a symptom shared by the thousands of people engaged in the production, writing, and portrayal of fictional violence? Is it a symptom shared by the millions who consume that work? If the guy who writes it is schizophrenic, isn't the guy who consumes it also schizophrenic?

I'd ask the readership here to consider how much fictional violence they have consumed in their lives. Are you schizophrenic?
3.13.2008 12:23pm
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
Hey if you guys are interested, I've started a blog to put out my side of the story.
3.13.2008 1:55pm
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
Let me also add that I'm not on a first name basis with all of my teachers--someone of them that I hang out with for a beer or cigar after class yeah, but not Professor Scalia.

Was I stupid for misjudging what everyone's reaction was going to be to the paper? Yes.

Am I crazy? No.

After the guns were confinscated and I was deemed to not be a threat by the judge, does that count as an "emergency" to contact the commonwealth attorney with the false info that had been involuntarily committed to get my permit suspended? No?

Obvious FERPA violation.
3.13.2008 2:00pm
YYY (mail):
Steve- Have fun with school admin morons. They deserve it. Have you found a good financial adviser yet? Seems you'll need one in a few years.

For all the hand wringing type here:

What trumps:

School policy or State law?
3.13.2008 2:37pm
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
To clarify:

What trumps, PUBLIC school policy or State Law?
3.13.2008 2:56pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
YYY, there's no question whether schools can prohibit actions, activities, or beliefs by their students that aren't outlawed by the local governments. If that wasn't the case, school policy would have no capabilities at all.

That's really not relevant. Nor, do I expect, is Mr. Barber's attempt to go after a FERPA violation, as (in addition to FERPA waivers being hidden in a lot of application forms as 'optionals') the law allows for disclosure "subject to regulations of the Secretary, in connection with an emergency, appropriate persons if the knowledge of such information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other persons". I know that logically shouldn't cover Mr. Barber, but I would not like to be the lawyer trying to argue that particular one.
3.13.2008 3:10pm
Philistine (mail):
There is no private cause of action under FERPA.
3.13.2008 3:51pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Elliot
Only pshrinks can diagnose schizophrenia, and only then after some work.
The rest of us can only say that somebody is a bit off, or a lot off. It could be a defensive self-presentation based on nearly invisible self-esteem. It could be a nearly pathological inability to see things from somebody else's viewpoint.
It could be a lot of things.
In addition, violence happens sans schizophrenia all the time.

The Illinois shooter turned out to be a really nice guy, cheerful, friendly and so forth. But one roomie recalled a bit of a change when the guy took an Arab language/middle east studies course. Correlation doesn't prove causation but it does require explanation.
There would be no reason on earth, as far as we know now [could change], to suggest somebody should have seen the Illinois shooter as a threat in the days before his attack.

So what we have, U VA Tech being the exception, is that college shooters are undistinguishable.

Of the jillions of flaky papers written, only one pointed to a homicidal nutcase.

Lots of room for false positives here.
3.13.2008 5:10pm
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
If I'm not mistaken, wasn't the Illinois guy prescribed meds? Something was going on somewhere.

No drugs here, prescription or no.
3.13.2008 5:37pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Yes, by all means, let's gang up on the poor school, trying to walk the fine balance between protecting students' privacy and protecting other students from being shot. Based on Barber's own website, he's got some serious bones to pick with administrators at the school. Maybe they're in the right on those other issues, maybe he is, but the fact remains that he clearly has motive to be angry at them and potentially mischaracterize their motives.

I'm sorry, but I find it extremely difficult to believe that after all the school shootings we've seen in the past several years than anybody intelligent enough to get into college could not foresee problems being caused by writing an essay about killing a professor named Christopher in a creative class taught by a professor named Christopher. That's just bone-headed. It's not like the guy is an 18-year-old freshman, either. He's old enough to know better.

Barber said:

"It's the nanny state ran amock; political correctness to the extreme," said Barber in a phone interview with timesnews.net.

"Nobody goes after Stephen King, nobody goes after William Shakespeare. This is a whole new low."


His writing is no Stephen King. I rather doubt that King wrote stories about contemplating killing his teacher in creative writing classes. If Barber can't tell the difference between writing a story about murder of some fictional character with writing a story about contemplating the murder of a specific, real person (who will be grading the paper), then he really does need some mental help.

So far, to me, based on the news accounts and the blog he announced up thread, he looks like one of those college students who enjoys riling people up and causing trouble just for the sake of doing so. That doesn't justify violating his rights, of course, but it doesn't make me feel much sympathy for him, either.
3.13.2008 6:23pm
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
First off, you haven't read it so "His writing is no Stephen King" doesn't have much of a bite to it.

How does this make sense anyway:

Fictional character decides to not kill fictional professor = real life author hell bent on killing real life professor?

As for the cry for attention angle that you suggest Pat, why is it that two reporters at two seperate papers called me instead of me calling them? Only after two papers ran with it, did I contact the third paper because I thought it was important to clarify BIG details that the other two missed (The Bristol Herald Courier more than The Roanoke Times).

I'm an absolute idiot for not realizing that this would happen. I concede that.

But that makes me an idiot, not an attention whore.
3.13.2008 6:57pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
PatHMV, the linked article states that another student had written a short story which detailed a fictional murder of that student's boyfriend, a specific, real person as far as anyone in the room could tell.

For that matter, don't I understand your assertion that the school was protecting other students from being shot. No school shooter in history has had a CCW permit; it makes no sense to (use questionably legally methods) get said CCW revoked. Likewise, I don't see an expulsion setting up a magical force field around the school preventing him from stepping inside.
3.13.2008 7:07pm
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
And the shooter at Grundy was expelled before he came back and started shooting...before he was stopped by students who had guns in their cars of course.
3.13.2008 7:32pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I'm sorry, but I find it extremely difficult to believe that after all the school shootings we've seen in the past several years than anybody intelligent enough to get into college could not foresee problems being caused by writing an essay about killing a professor named Christopher in a creative class taught by a professor named Christopher."

I agree that we should always be on the lookout for stupid reactions by college administrators. And we should always be willing to alter our behavior to accommodate them. Anyone who does not is obviously schizophrenic.
3.13.2008 7:39pm
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
I should have seen it coming, you guys are absolutely right about that.
3.13.2008 8:14pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Steve, I'm not suggesting you're an attention whore for this particular incident; I'm suggesting that your record reveals a general pattern of seeking conflict with the authorities and others.

As for "he's no Stephen King," I wasn't commenting on the quality of your writing, which I tried to make clear with the remainder of that sentence. Had you written a story about a haunted car or a rabid dog or something, I would agree with you. But you wrote a story about contemplating murdering a professor named Christopher as a writing assignment for a professor named Christopher.

The fact that YOU know full well that you didn't intend to be threatening does not in any way make it irrational for others to take it as a threat. When a stranger comes up to you on a train and says, in a somewhat menancing tone, "nice watch" as he stares at you intently, we naturally take that as a threat. Other people can't read your mind and have no idea what you're thinking. My step-mother is an English instructor at a university. I know if somebody in her class wrote a similar essay using her name, I'd be freaked out.

I don't mean to be insulting, but you appear to be fairly self-centered, focused more on your rights than on common sense or the impact of your actions on others. You continue to defend your paper by suggesting that it's simply irrational to see it as a threat, because of course you didn't ACTUALLY have anybody murder anybody else in the story. Wouldn't you be freaked out if somebody you didn't know well came up to you and started talking about how they're NOT going to kill you?

You're certainly entitled to and should stand up for your rights; I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't. But I think that you should spend a little time contemplating if maybe there are some valid reasons why your actions helped land you where you are now.

gattsuru, the fact that nobody with a CCW permit has ever shot up a school before now is by no means a guarantee that no CCW permit-holder ever will shoot up a school. Having a CCW permit is simply irrelevant to the question of whether he is dangerous or not. It only means that he's never previously been convicted of a felony or been committed. Many of the school shooters we've seen would have received CCW permits had they applied for one.

I've got no problem with CCWs and agree that the best solution to preventing school shootings is to have a few more decent folks with guns on the campuses. But with those rights come some responsibilities. Those carrying the guns should not act erraticly or write stories which can easily be read by perfectly sane, non-paraonid people as threats against one's professor.
3.13.2008 11:08pm
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
"...focused more on your rights than on common sense..."

You have no idea. :-)
3.13.2008 11:17pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
I will say you're a good sport, Steve, for coming on here and addressing the comments and criticisms forthrightly. Best of luck as you straighten this all out. Just remember to step back and put yourself in the other guy's shoes, including the vice chancellor or other folks you don't care for...
3.13.2008 11:33pm
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
You're right Pat. I need to go offline for a couple days. I'm just afraid when I get back it will be "Gay Rapist al Qaeda Student Expelled for Guns--Ate Babies and Killed Puppies!"

Someone with the user name outingbarber has already said on a few sites that I'm a gay rapist, trying to get the reporters who are already reading a few of the comments to speculate in print about my orientation to try to keep me from re-enlisting under DADT.

The good news is that this is the worse hell I've ever been through and so far I'm dry.

I made a mistake in the story--I think they over-reacted, but that doesn't take away from my mistake. That said however, I think the guns are legit.

Keep me in your prayers everybody.
3.13.2008 11:57pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"If Barber can't tell the difference between writing a story about murder of some fictional character with writing a story about contemplating the murder of a specific, real person (who will be grading the paper), then he really does need some mental help."

Can you tell us the difference in the context of a creative writing class? We will use your answer to determine if you need mental help.
3.14.2008 12:14am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
gattsuru, the fact that nobody with a CCW permit has ever shot up a school before now is by no means a guarantee that no CCW permit-holder ever will shoot up a school. Having a CCW permit is simply irrelevant to the question of whether he is dangerous or not.


I won't contest that. Think you're entirely missing the point. Not ONE school shooter had a concealed carry license. That's not to say that all of them were prohibited persons or otherwise unable to get a CCW (in most states, it's a bit more complicated than just the criminal record and mental health check), although that does seem to be a good predictor. It's to say that there were a boatload of people illegally carrying around concealed weapons, and for some remarkably strange reason committing a relatively minor felony or misdemeanor on the route to dozens of first degree murders doesn't seem to be that big of a speed bump.

My point isn't whether Mr. Barber is sane as you are or a step from the icy pits of madness. The issue at hand is that the government's actions here don't actually do jack about the alleged problem, while managing to make a hell of a lot of theater and step on a hell of a lot of the man's rights. What, exactly, is the point of stripping away his CCW, and while doing so (possibly illegally) violating his right to mental health privacy? It's obviously not going to be jack effective at preventing a school shooting, and it's irrelevant to whether or not he's dangerous. It wouldn't even be particularly helpful at preventing him from going anywhere he can legally go unarmed, with a weapon lawfully : CCWs aren't necessary for open carry in Virginia, Virginia law does not ban carry on college campuses, the school policy does not have much weight on the actions of non-contracted individuals on public streets, and he's already banned from entering classrooms.

Your statement was, and I quote :
... the poor school, trying to walk the fine balance between protecting students' privacy and protecting other students from being shot.

If the action has no capability, at all, of actually protecting other students from being shot, what's the point of violating the student's mental health record privacy?
3.14.2008 3:10am
Vince (mail):
PatHMV,
I just wanted to point out something, in regards to your comment that Mr. Barber's story of a murdered professor bears no resemblance to Stephen King's writing. Stephen King wrote a story, published under his pseudonym Bachman titled "Rage"; "Rage" details a fictional occurence in which a student does in fact murder not one but two teachers, and then takes an entire classroom of his peers hostage. It's actually a very enjoyable story, with a few other bits to it, but that is an approximation of the plot. So...Mr. Barber's story could very well be Stephen King-ish.
3.14.2008 7:09am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Vince, did Stephen King write "Rage" as part of a creative writing class assignment and turn it into his teacher? Did he use the name of his teacher as the name of one of the murdered teachers?

Gattsuru, if he were actually crazy, then taking away his guns would have at least some capability of actually protecting other students from being shot. Now, having apparently determined that he's not crazy (when the judge wouldn't continue the TDO), then I agree that they shouldn't yank his CCW, which does indeed serve no purpose at that point. I'm in favor of the campus being able to take some immediate steps to look into the risk that a student is plotting to murder his teachers, or thinking about it, or whatever, but I think that once the investigation shows that it's a misunderstanding, the fact that there was an investigation shouldn't by itself be used to prejudice fundamental rights like gun possession.

And Elliott, certainly I know what a creative writing class is. My step-mother teaches English. She's found that most of the time, students write what they know and what they feel. When asked to do some sort of self-revelatory paper, they will reveal the most horrifying details of their lives, drug use, abuse, you name it. College students on the whole aren't shy about revealing their innermost secrets and thoughts. Yes, sometimes a fictional piece for creative writing class is just a fictional piece; other times it's a window into someone's mind. When the person who turns in such a paper has at least a bit of a disciplinary record (the incident which led him to give up drinking) and a record of seeking out conflict with the authorities, it's not overreacting to have serious worries about what may be going on in his mind.
3.14.2008 9:42am
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
Again I say how does a fictional character deciding to NOT kill a fictional professor = a real life student "hell bent" on killing his real life professor?
3.14.2008 10:57am
Elliot123 (mail):
PatHMV,

You failed to tell us "the difference between writing a story about murder of some fictional character with writing a story about contemplating the murder of a specific, real person (who will be grading the paper),..."

You further said anyone who didn't know this difference needed mental help. Do you need mental help? Does your failure to describe a difference you yourself identify indicate you need mental help?

You told us, "When the person who turns in such a paper has at least a bit of a disciplinary record (the incident which led him to give up drinking) and a record of seeking out conflict with the authorities, it's not overreacting to have serious worries about what may be going on in his mind."

That doesn't help us much in avoiding the need for mental help occassioned by our lack of recognizing the difference you mention.

You did tell us about your step mother. I don't know why. Why?
3.14.2008 12:32pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Gattsuru, if he were actually crazy, then taking away his guns would have at least some capability of actually protecting other students from being shot.


And, again, that has absolutely zero to do with revealing mental health information (possibly illegally) in order to get a CCW revoked. CCWs aren't permit to own, they're permits to carry concealed. It has zero to do with the expulsion.

It might have justified the search and confiscation of firearms, if not for the part where the man should still legally be able to purchase a new firearm (unless the local police have incorrectly and illegally registered him as a mental defective).

So, yeah, we have a lot of things being done to step all over the man's rights, but I don't see how any of these could be rationally tied to protecting other people from being shot.

And thus we find that the only thing done here that could have possibly been useful was the mental health assessment, and it was based on a creative writing essay and the questionable search of the man's car -- if the man hadn't been so obviously sane that the bench to turn a TDO into an involuntary commitment. Those of you following along at home, though, will remember that among other things, the initial order for a TDO requires that the individual be found to have a mental illness. Yet unlike a certain serial stalker with paranoid delusions, none of the information we have actually suggests a DSM diagnosis -- despite popular opinion among college administration, gun ownership is not typically a sign of any particular psychosis.
3.14.2008 2:00pm
George Lyon (mail):
note that this aspect means he will never be able to own a firearm of any type in the future, thus preventing him from reenlisting, if the police officers report it as such to the FBI. Nice to know there are ever so many checks and balances on that particular law.



Wrong, a TDO (temporary detention order) is not an involuntary commitment.
3.14.2008 3:26pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Wrong, a TDO (temporary detention order) is not an involuntary commitment.


It was reported as an "involuntary commitment" in the linked story, and I made the mistake of using that information as for what it actually would mean. I've corrected that in my latter assessments of the event.
3.14.2008 4:08pm