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More on the U.Va.-Wise Expulsion:

When I blogged on this incident -- in which the expulsion seemed to be triggered by a creative writing paper, coupled with a violation of university rules (but not state law) related to keeping licensed guns in a parked car on campus -- I wrote, "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."

Well, the account turns out not to have been reasonably complete, and making it more complete makes me much less troubled. Becky Dale points to this article that reports, "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 assault and break-in charges were dismissed, but it's certainly possible that the university had enough evidence about them to consider them in its decision. (University expulsion decisions, of course, aren't governed by a reasonable-doubt standard, or by the local prosecutor's judgments about what charges should be pressed criminally.) Among other things, Barber acknowledges that he "[broke] into a dorm room that he mistook for his own while admittedly in a drunken stupor," and "did community service for the misdemeanor drunk-in-public charge and was ordered to keep out of trouble for the next year while on campus."

It's still possible that the university acted incorrectly here (again, I stress that we don't have all the facts), for instance if it relied on the creative writing paper in its decision, and the creative writing paper did not actually reveal any dangerous propensities on the author's part. But the new evidence seems to make the university's decision much more plausible, especially if state law does not prohibit the university from imposing extra weapons rules beyond those created by state law (quite likely, given that the government as property owner generally has considerable authority to set up noncriminal constraints on what and who is allowed on its property). The burden would now have to be on Barber, I think, to show that there remains something to be troubled about.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on the U.Va.-Wise Expulsion:
  2. University Student Expelled Over Creative Writing Paper?
Tracy Johnson (www):
I'm sure he'll make a fine rapscallion like Rex Harrison played in "The Rake's Progress." But he failed to climb a University's steeple (if there are any at U.VA.)
3.14.2008 2:01pm
D Palmer (mail):
Even with your clarification I find the expulsion troubling.

That said, after Columbine, VA Tech, NIU why would a student be so foolish as to submit a violent fantasy paper unless specifically assigned such a project? That's an invitation to trouble.

Barber is not a kid. He is a 23-year old veteran. He should have more sense. Prudent self-censorship is something all responsible adults do. Barber didn't and is paying a steep price.

I don't think that he should be expelled over the guns. He volunteered that they were in the car (the story doesn't say if the school had a warrant to search the car) and he had the proper permits to both own and carry them. They were not in his university residence, nor on his person when he was in a class or school building. I don't see how UVA can use the weapons as an excuse for expulsion.
3.14.2008 2:11pm
Allan (mail):
This sounds more like PTSD than anything else.
3.14.2008 2:14pm
More importantly...:

I don't see how UVA can use the weapons as an excuse for expulsion.


Easy: guns are bad.
3.14.2008 2:22pm
pete (mail) (www):
So his background offense is being a drunk college student and doing stupid things while drunk? Sorry, but I knew a lot of people in college who had that background, but who were in general harmless.

I see no harm with the investigation, but the fact that he has history of being a drunk college student does not change the situation much. It sounds more like this guy is a dumbass than that he is actually dangerous.
3.14.2008 2:42pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
They were on campus grounds, so from the school's viewpoint, as long as they were banned by the student agreement, the school can screw him over.
That said, after Columbine, VA Tech, NIU why would a student be so foolish as to submit a violent fantasy paper unless specifically assigned such a project?

The previous article mentioned that another student's paper had included the viewpoint character murdering her boyfriend. Without knowing the context of the assignment, it's rather difficult to say much one way or the other, but I think it's possible to understand why even if it remained a bad idea.

My issue is less about the school's expulsion -- which is certainly bad policy, but probably not actionable -- as much as many of the school and police's actions. They got a temporary detention order over the revelation of lawful gun ownership and a creative writing assignment. They got a CCW permit revoked, but VA is a shall-issue and doesn't seem to use a temporary detention as a criteria.

He ain't exactly a poster boy, but the whole thing seems to be a bit odd.
3.14.2008 2:52pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Do we have time to document all the college students who will be drunk during March Madness? Spring break? Sometime in their college career? This would be evidence that future charges of being a danger to themselves or others are plausible.

Anyone here qualify?
3.14.2008 2:58pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
If anyone living on campus needs a place to store a handgun or two, I suggest renting a safe deposit box.
3.14.2008 3:00pm
George Lyon (mail):

If anyone living on campus needs a place to store a handgun or two, I suggest renting a safe deposit box.

I suggest the college administrators removed their heads from their rears and realize that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the college entrance.

The two incidents -- a drunk in public and the instant controversy -- are unrelated. He wrote a work of fiction. Writing a short story about violence is not probable cause to believe someone is dangerous. Otherwise half of the screen writers guild would be in the looney bin. (Yeah some of the might profit from it.) The university totally overreacted and it owes this adult veteran college student an apology.

Why can I as a CHP holder carry on grounds, but this veteran and CHP holder -- at the time and likely again as soon as he gets a hearing -- cannot even have a weapon in his car so it is accessible when he leaves campus? Do the words "stuck on stupid" come to mind?
3.14.2008 3:14pm
Wahoo:
Please do not refer to UVA-Wise as UVA. Thank you.
3.14.2008 3:29pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
The two incidents -- a drunk in public and the instant controversy -- are unrelated.


That depends, since the "drunk in public incident" apparently included charges of an assault and an attempt to break into another student's room (which were dismissed), it probably raised a few red flags with the administration that this same student was now writing papers about a student contemplating the murder of a teacher with the same name. At some point even "unrelated incidents" may look like a pattern and it may just be a question at which point someone intervenes. The school chose apparently to intervene at this point rather than risk waiting until they had another shooting on their hands.
3.14.2008 3:43pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Thorley Winston raises a good point that I was just about to mention. It's not just a student who was drunk in public: there are lots and lots of those; heck, I'll 'fess up to being guilty of that once or twice back in college. But I never broke into somebody else's room, because I supposedly thought it was mine or otherwise,and I was never charged with assault. And indeed, those things didn't happen to any of my college buddies who (not naming any names) also got drunk on occasion.
3.14.2008 4:12pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"The school chose apparently to intervene at this point rather than risk waiting until they had another shooting on their hands."

I doubt that was the choice the school faced. The far more likely possibility is that they don't intervene, and nothing happens.

If this student is a danger, and he is free, is he a danger to the pofessor? If so, isn't it the duty of the school to guard the professor? Are they doing that? Does anyone know? Is he still walking around campus, going to class, and stopping for a sandwich with no protection? If they are not guarding him, is it reasonable to suggest it is because they don't consider the student a threat? If the univ does not consider the student a threat, what's the problem?
3.14.2008 4:13pm
wfjag:

And indeed, those things didn't happen to any of my college buddies who (not naming any names) also got drunk on occasion.


Probably because, back in your (&my) day, being drunk &stupid in public, even if something got broken, wasn't handled as a criminal matter. You had to pay for it (&likely your parents were called) -- &if it happened in a dorm, slink past the person you offended by being drunk &stupid every time you met in the hall or elsewhere. Today, however, to ensure that everyone's "rights" are "protected," the first choice is arrest and a criminal prosecution, instead of trying an informal resolution first.


The burden would now have to be on Barber, I think, to show that there remains something to be troubled about.


That's likely to trigger the next consequence of the current way to "protect" rights -- he will have to sue UVA-Wise, and likely named various individuals in a 1983 action, to do this. Great use of taxpayer dollars whether he wins, loses or gets a settlement, since there will still be litigation costs.

Back in my day, if a Prof. was concerned about a student, the Prof. sat down and talked with the student, first. I see many more "rights" and many more "rules" but much less leadership and concern for students (or, maybe, that's only what is reported in the press).

I fail to see that the current approach is an improvement over the old way. I prefer to see my tax dollars at work for education spent on education and not litigation.
3.14.2008 4:44pm
JosephSlater (mail):
WFJAG:

No, I wasn't kicked out of school because even when I (and other folks I know) were drunk, none of us broke into somebody else's room. If we had, I'm pretty darn sure we would have faced serious discipline, and if there had been other stuff in our record (assault charge), we likely could have been kicked out of college. I knew of two people kicked out of my school -- and this was back in the 1980s: one for stealing school property, and one for assault. I don't see any particular difference in this case.
3.14.2008 5:02pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"And indeed, those things didn't happen to any of my college buddies who (not naming any names) also got drunk on occasion."

I agree. We didn't go to school under zero-tolerance. Schools actually made reasonable decisions without having to consult a lawyer.
3.14.2008 5:05pm
Virginian:

Probably because, back in your (&my) day, being drunk &stupid in public, even if something got broken, wasn't handled as a criminal matter. You had to pay for it (&likely your parents were called) -- &if it happened in a dorm, slink past the person you offended by being drunk &stupid every time you met in the hall or elsewhere. Today, however, to ensure that everyone's "rights" are "protected," the first choice is arrest and a criminal prosecution, instead of trying an informal resolution first.


wfjag - you are so right. I had a 14 year gap between undergrad and law school. When I was in undergrad, you pretty much had to commit a felony to get arrested by the campus police. All the petty bs (including (especially?) minor in possession of alcohol) was just reported to the dean of students for punishment.

Fast forward to law school...I could not believe my eyes when I would read the campus newspaper and see all the reports of student arrests for petty bs (including (especially?) minor in possession of alcohol).
3.14.2008 5:39pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
I agree. We didn't go to school under zero-tolerance. Schools actually made reasonable decisions without having to consult a lawyer.


I think Joseph's point was that even back in his college days (presumably before "zero tolerance") a mere assault charge would be enough to get kicked out of school. The fact that this fellow had both an assault and a breaking and entering charge (which granted were dismissed) and the school kept him on probation instead suggests that by comparison they were being far more lenient.
3.14.2008 5:40pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
I don't see how charges that are dismissed have much value. Was he even indicted by a grand jury? He was charged. Not convicted. Are we to assume that everyone charged is guilty?

Also, thanks to Allen for raising the "crazy vet" rational.
3.14.2008 5:51pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Could be. My point is that all kinds of things happened "back then" which were not referred to the criminal justice system, while the same action today is referred to the police. Deans and administrators were far more skilled at dealing with people and interpersonal relations rather than rule books. They made judgements, and were allowed to do so.

I don't think we can compare assault charges back then with an asssault charge today. Back then it took much more to have a charge filed than it takes today. The law might be the same, but much more discretion and tolerance was applied in choosing to use it.
3.14.2008 6:05pm
Robb Shecter (denk) (mail) (www):
I'm less troubled as well. Here are a couple of other aspects:

1:


[He had signed a student agreement and now the school can use it to screw him over.]


Phrased more objectively: He breached a contract that he, an adult, signed. The school can take action.

2: Colleges (even public ones) are privileged environments -- no one has a right to be there. When on campus, people can let down their guard. All the adults who chose to attend school there did so for reasons including the school's policies, amount of safety and atmosphere. Schools can all create their own policies of tolerance, and the market will decide which are successful.

3: He seems to have a problem accepting and following rules. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the facts underlying the dismissed charges are true: Assault, and breaking into a dorm room (even one you think is yours, even being drunk), and keeping weapons when you know they violate school policy all may show a tendency to disregard regulations.
3.14.2008 6:26pm
Robb Shecter (denk) (mail) (www):

Could be. My point is that all kinds of things happened "back then" which were not referred to the criminal justice system, while the same action today is referred to the police.


This doesn't sound like such a bad thing. Working on a college campus and seeing how the system works, the police obviously make their own decision about whether to arrest or not, press charges, etc.


Deans and administrators were far more skilled at dealing with people and interpersonal relations rather than rule books.


That's an interesting assertion, but unsupported.


I don't think we can compare assault charges back then with an asssault charge today. Back then it took much more to have a charge filed than it takes today. The law might be the same, but much more discretion and tolerance was applied in choosing to use it.


As I noted above, the police and local prosecutor don't take orders from a college.

Personally, I'm not yet convinced of problems with this system. The current issue--drunkenness, assault, break+enter, possibly unlawful arms possession--is one that conservatives might want less reliance by a college on local police.

But for other issues--rape--conservatives have argued for *more* reliance on the authorities, arguing for decades (see, e.g., Camila Paglia, circa 1990) that college discipline boards (1) are not equipped to handle these issues, and (2) shouldn't handle them.

I think that we can't have it both ways. Either the system is good, or it isn't.
3.14.2008 6:42pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"This doesn't sound like such a bad thing. Working on a college campus and seeing how the system works, the police obviously make their own decision about whether to arrest or not, press charges, etc."

Exactly. Back then the campus police filtered their actions through the deans.

"That's an interesting assertion, but unsupported."

Of course it's unsupported. It's an observation in an informal conversation on the internet. That's how a great deal of exchange takes place. If you dispute the notion, tell us so, and tell us why.

"As I noted above, the police and local prosecutor don't take orders from a college."

I agree. In the past the campus police did run many more things by the administration which then exercised its judgement. That's my point. So did the city police in many cases. The situation today is different from in the past.

"I think that we can't have it both ways. Either the system is good, or it isn't."

Nonsense. Any human system has good and bad aspects. It has areas where it can be improved, and there are also potentials for great mischief. I suggest it is profitable to identify the areas where it can be improved, and review changes to determine if they have indeed delivered the intended benefits. One of the requirements for reviewing past changes is to know what they are.
3.14.2008 7:21pm
Robb Shecter (denk) (mail) (www):
He deserves expulsion just for this statement:


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


http://www.timesnews.net/article.php?id=9005496rof
3.14.2008 7:49pm
anym_avey (mail):
I don't see how charges that are dismissed have much value.

Seruiously? Much of the time, when charges are actually brought, something occurred that didn't look right. Dimissal of charges can occur for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that additional evidence revealed that the "something" didn't rise to a prosecutable level. We don't know the full details of what that was, but the school does know them, and it is quite possible they have determined that this former student has ongoing self-discipline issues as revealed by multiple events, and is therefore an unacceptably disruptive influence to the college environment.

Or, to review:

1. Wrote a violent fiction piece in High School, spent time with a guidance counselor.
2. Convicted of public drunkeness.
3. Charged with assault and breaking-and-entering as a result of an incident that he admits was not invented from whole cloth, but counters that he was drunk at the time of occurrence. Charges later dismissed.
4. Writes a violent fiction piece and includes one of his professor's names in the name of the targeted educator. Spends three days in a mental health ward under observation.
5. Following that, he has found to have three firearms in his car, in violation of a contract he previously agreed to. Yeah, they were legally in his possession otherwise. So were the weapons used by Seung Hui Cho and Steve Kazmierczak, two other recent gifts to society who gave only limited warning before going homicidally insane.

Popquiz for the disgruntled "Back In my day..." indignants who have contributed to this thread: Without touching on the merits/demerits of gun-free zones, free speech issues, or college revelry incidents in isoalation, you are a college administrator in year 2008, charged with maintaining discpline and order on a campus that nobody has a per se "right" to be on. The perenniel Scent of a Thousand Lawsuits hangs over your personal career as well as the future viability of your school if a Columbine/Chicago/VaTech style incident occurs on your watch, and you had warning signs beforehand but opted to act discretionarily.

Now you've got a student with all of the above to his credit. Not one of the above; all of it. What do you do?
3.14.2008 7:54pm
Robb Shecter (denk) (mail) (www):
I did some elementary fact-checking, and found a disturbing apparent inconsistency in his story. He insists that he had no intention of threatening any student or professor:


How does a fictional character who decides to NOT kill his fictional professor = real life author deciding to kill his real life professor?


Steve Barber Truth Squad (Barber's personal blog), http://stevebarbertruthsquad.blogspot.com/ (3/13/2008).

Remember now, Barber's professor was Christopher Scalia. Here's a passage from the essay:


"I was a Nihilist. There was no meaning to life: no purpose. there was no Designer, no Design; no Planner, no Plan; no Right, no Wrong; no good, no Evil. There were only temporary pleasures and infinite pains. More importantly, there was no Love. And soon Mr. Christopher, there will be no Life."


A fictional professor who happens to have the same name as the real-life professor. Neat literary device.
3.14.2008 8:06pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
In my day we couldn't have guns on campus, even though a proposal was floated to have ROTC store them. Oh well.

We also didn't carry guns to campus and then claim that the school had no right to ban them, back in the good old days.
3.14.2008 8:14pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Now you've got a student with all of the above to his credit. Not one of the above; all of it. What do you do?"

I would tell the professor he is teaching a creative writing course and he should be prepared for any flight of imagination. I would suggest the student probably took the advice given in many such courses to write about what he knows, and grab the attention of the intended audience. And he really did grab that attention. He didn't get the paper in a history assigment about Henry VII; he got it in a creative writing course. I'd remind him of Stephen King, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, and a thousand other writers who have penned violence, and I'd note Dante put contemporaries in hell. Then I'd ask if there is anything other than the paper that the professor has observed about the student that he thinks I should know.

I'd tell the student that it's stupid to write about killing teachers in a state where 31 people were recentlty murdered at a state campus. I know it's a creative writing course, and I know the protagonist decided against the crime, but it's still a dumb thing to do, and using the teacher's name was unnecessarily provocative and stupid. I'd remind him that the Rev Phelps is within his rights to protest at military funerals, but the law isn't so wise that we can use it as a guide to everything we do. If he wants to have a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding in life he has to employ a bit of discretion and common sense.

I'd ask other interested parties what they conclude from #1, #2, #3, and #5. And I'd ask if we should search the univ and state records to identify faculty or students who qualify on any or all of the items. And I'd tell them that I and millions of others legally have a gun just like Seung Hui Cho and Steve Kazmierczak, two other recent gifts to society who gave only limited warning before going homicidally insane.

Then I'd tell everyone to get back to work.
3.14.2008 8:43pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"We also didn't carry guns to campus and then claim that the school had no right to ban them, back in the good old days."

I agree. Nobody did. There were no concealed carry laws.
3.14.2008 8:46pm
anym_avey (mail):
Elliot123: That's fine for armchair quarterbacking, with no risk involved for being horribly wrong, but your scenario is dependent upon an enormity of assumptions about unavailable information. How do you know all of that wasn't done already, either at this incident, or at some previous incident, and the fair and reasonably conclusion was expulsion?

It was one thing when the original story broke, and it appeared the kid was being unfairly singled out in one isolated incident by overzealous antigun educators. Now that Paul Harvey has stopped by and cleared up a good chunk of the context, I'm scratching my head as to how anyone can be so ready to judge this, in effect, as a rushed judgment. It may still have been, but the sum evidence now is reasonably favorable to the institution, not the student.
3.14.2008 9:21pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"That's fine for armchair quarterbacking, with no risk involved for being horribly wrong, but your scenario is dependent upon an enormity of assumptions about unavailable information. How do you know all of that wasn't done already, either at this incident, or at some previous incident, and the fair and reasonably conclusion was expulsion?"

You gave five enumerated items and asked how one would act given those five items. I answered. Of course my scenario doesn't include unavailable information.
3.14.2008 9:41pm
TDPerkins (mail):
I think the student involved here has on the other related thread ably and completely answered the questions of his honest interrogators, and that no colorable argument can be made that he is a threat to anyone at this time or for the foreseeable future.

His expulsion should be rescinded and mutual apologies made, and his firearms and license returned.

That should be the end of it.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
3.16.2008 11:30am
Steve Barber (mail) (www):
Question: How does this line in the Student Code of Conduct apply to the "Steve broke the the contract with the school" theory?

"It [the college] is committed to preserving the exercise of any right guaranteed to individuals by the Constitution."

Please discuss. :-)

And no I haven't been diagnosed with PTSD, so we can stop with the "crazy vet" talk.

As for the trespassing charge, I didn't say anything like, "I was drunk so I'm not responsible." Nothing like that. I accepted full responsibility for what happend. But to clarify, I didn't "break in"--I walked through unlocked doors (the first to the room, the second through the bathroom that connects the rooms) thinking I was in my room.

When the lights came on, and the two guys (justly) started screaming like banshees, I realized something was wrong.
3.17.2008 2:04pm