WATCHING ADAMS COMMENTARY – 11/24/15
Foreword: Within five days of circulating this article, approximately 55 individuals signed it due to their concerns about the current state of Adams State University and how current administrative actions are adversely affecting the future success of ASU. The signatories included approximately 27 students, 9 faculty, 6 emeritus faculty, 6 staff, 3 alums, 2 community members, 1 instructor, and 1 administrator. Another dozen individuals said they supported the message, but were afraid to sign due to fear of retaliation. The publishing of this piece was delayed, and collection of signatures suspended, due to what we perceived to be good faith efforts in negotiations on behalf of President Beverlee McClure to find amicable resolutions with Mr. Ledonne. To be clear, this op-ed was not used as a bargaining chip, merely as an opportunity for the many signatories of this piece to express their concerns with the long-standing culture at ASU (e.g., lack of shared governance, fear of retaliation, violations of policy by Administration, and a power-differential expressed in Administration's take-it-or-leave-it, if-you-don't-like-it-leave attitude). All of us hoped President McClure would recognize these concerns and, by making changes, gain the trust of those she has been charged to lead. Despite our best efforts and in light of President McClure's campus-wide email to the ASU student body on November 17th, where she continued in her accusations against Mr. Ledonne, we can no longer delay the printing of this piece. Although many voices have been heard on both sides of the issues, some in support of President McClure, and some not, the most important voices are those of our students. Regardless of the nature of the concerns, this piece started a lot of open dialogue, and that dialogue should continue. Due to the delay and increasing tensions on campus, a few changes were made to this piece and a few people decided to remove their names. We struggled with the issues of publishing the names of signatories and even publishing the article, at all. In the end, we felt we had to publish it on WatchingAdams, if not the Valley Courier, because we owed it to the people who took a risk by signing. Not to publish the piece would be to silence many people who have felt silenced by ASU culture for years. So here it is, without names.
School shootings have become increasingly common. Each shooting magnifies a primary concern of students and parents: safety. Unfortunately, the recent actions of ASU Administration do not appear to be in students’ best interests. Administration banned Mr. Danny Ledonne from all campus property and publicly attacked his character in campus-wide emails and the Valley Courier (11/7/2015). According to FBI and Secret Service reports, these actions could have increased danger to students and employees, IF he had ever been an actual threat. So, why did Administration choose to take these particular actions, as opposed to some other – safer – course of action?
Both President McClure and Chief of ASU Police Grohowski claim their recent actions were done to protect students and employees, not for retribution against Mr. Ledonne. They both raise concerns that Mr. Ledonne might become another school shooter. In the Valley Courier interview (11/7/2015), President McClure said “we may be wrong on this, but it’s better to be wrong on the side of safety.” In his campus-wide email (10/28/2015), Chief Grohowski wrote “my recommendation to ban him from campus is sound, rational and errs on the side of public safety.” Both administrators were wrong, they both erred – on the issue of an Alamosa citizen’s rights and they erred on the wrong side of safety.
If Mr. Ledonne were a threat, an assertion we don’t believe, then Administration did all the wrong things. Specifically, they were counter to recommendations from the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, and the U.S. Department of Education. Their actions were more likely to increase danger than to reduce it.
President McClure said in the Courier interview (11/7/2015), “I would say as a businessperson, ‘why didn’t they see that [warning signs of a shooting]? Why didn’t they do something?’” Indeed, she asks these questions as if the lack of a good answer is self-evident – as if the questions justify Administration’s actions. The FBI and Secret Service have clear answers to “why not?”
First, doing the wrong thing can be worse than doing nothing. Independent reports by the FBI and Secret Service warn administrators not to make the situation worse by actions that would put students at greater risk. The FBI’s 52-page report recommends, “It is especially important that a school not deal with threats by simply kicking the problem out the door. Expelling or suspending a student for making a threat must not be a substitute for careful threat assessment … Disciplinary action alone … may actually exacerbate the danger – for example, if a student feels unfairly or arbitrarily treated.”
And that’s exactly what Administration did – banned Mr. Ledonne from campus, kicked the problem out the door.
Although FBI and Secret Service recommendations address “problem” students, it is rational to apply the same standards to citizens, who provide support for public universities. The joint report from the Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education explicitly makes the point “school administrators may feel pressured to ‘get tough’ or ‘set an example’ by suspending or expelling a student who threatens to bring a weapon to school. However, suspension or expulsion of a student can create the risk of triggering either an immediate or a delayed violent response.”
And that’s exactly what Administration did – they “got tough” – by banning Mr. Ledonne and publicly humiliating him. President McClure’s apparently libelous statement about “terrorism” is a prime example of their character attacks.
With regard to the FBI’s point about “unfair and arbitrary treatment,” that seems to be Mr. Ledonne’s very point, with regard to the hiring process and the ban. Why would an informed administrator respond to concerns about unfair treatment with more unfair treatment? Again, they erred on both sides. On one side, they took actions that could have increased risk. On the other side, their actions infringed on Mr. Ledonne’s rights, added to a pre-existing fear of retaliation from Administration against faculty and staff, and brought more negative press for ASU. It was fine for President McClure to comment on inactions as an armchair quarterback, but as President she has an obligation to act rationally. And what excuse does Chief Grohowski have? It is his job to know best practices in law enforcement, or research them when he doesn’t and before acting rashly.
Second, there is the problem of false accusations. “Why didn’t they see that [warning signs]?” asks President McClure. See what? The FBI and Secret Service concluded that “there is no accurate or useful profile of ‘the school shooter’.” Accuracy of such judgments refers to two mistakes: misses and false positives. Think of medical diagnoses – how many times do you want to be told you have a terminal illness, followed by “oops, just kidding?” Or how many times do you want ASU administrators to imply you are a risk for being a school shooter? The Secret Service report includes the warning: “the great majority of students who fit any given profile of a ‘school shooter’ will not actually pose a risk of targeted violence.” The FBI and Secret Service reports both warn of the damage to those who are falsely identified: stigmatization, damaged reputations, unfair punishment.
One warning in the FBI report concludes: “A school that treats all threats as equal falls into the fallacy formulated by Abraham Maslow: ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.’”
Third, the FBI recommends a threat assessment prior to any action. ASU Vice President for Student Affairs, Ken Marquez, met with Mr. Ledonne just this summer and concluded “In consultation with the Campus Health and Safety committee we do not find an actionable threat at this time.” So, what happened in three months between that assessment and the ban? Perhaps Mr. Ledonne’s, watchdog website Watching Adams?
After President McClure signed the ban, Chief Grohowski delivered it to Mr. Ledonne’s door, without any further assessment. Apparently, Chief Grohowski didn’t take even the simplest steps to assess Mr. Ledonne’s psychological state or ask whether he had guns in the house. If they had performed an assessment based on the FBI’s criteria, Mr. Ledonne would have been classified as low-risk. The whole matter could have been dropped without further embarrassment and expense to ASU – and potential risk to students.
If there are at least three good answers to President McClure’s rhetorical question “Why didn’t they do something?”, then why did she and Chief Grohowski take the misguided actions of banishing Mr. Ledonne from campus, publicly humiliating him, and issuing a ban that would have been ineffective against an actual school schooter? Why did they not follow the recommended actions of threat assessment, contacting state or federal law enforcement, and due process? Either they aren’t very conscientious at their jobs, or they had other motives, as Mr. Ledonne and many others have speculated.
If this was just about retaliation and silencing Mr. Ledonne, then a proper threat assessment wasn’t necessary because they never saw him as a real threat. Note that no one at ASU has any sort of protective order against Mr. Ledonne.
If they never saw him as a real threat, then due process would have prevented the ban they desired. Note that President McClure and Chief Grohowski have both acknowledged that Mr. Ledonne has not violated any law – or even ASU policy!
If Administration’s actions were about retaliation, then they attempted to manipulate public opinion by using students’ safety as a pretense for their actions. In the aftermath of this misguided tactic, they have gone to great lengths to save face. Why else would Chief Grohowski issue a campus-wide email referencing Columbine, breaking confidentiality, and humiliating Mr. Ledonne? His email certainly did nothing to increase any student’s safety. Similarly, President McClure’s apparently libelous statement about “terrorism” protects no one.
Given what we know at this moment, there is no way to determine whether Administration was acting out of retaliation or ineptitude, but in either case they “erred” against safety and a citizen’s civil rights. It is our belief that their actions were not “sound,” not “rational,” and most importantly, not in their students’ best interests. This issue is of concern to all of those who have signed here: students, staff, faculty, former faculty, alumni, and citizens. We want the best for ASU and so we implore ASU Administration to act responsibly with regard to students’ and employees’ safety and Constitutional rights.
Afterword: President McClure sent an email to students (11/17) where she continued with strong allegations regarding Mr. Ledonne's past actions: "direct and indirect threats against individuals and the campus as a whole." Similarly, she called an emergency meeting of Faculty Senate (11/18) at which she never wavered in her accusations, or misunderstanding of the Constitution. Unfortunately, President McClure's claims of danger are tainted by the admission of Chief Grohowski that Mr. Ledonne has not violated any laws. Her position is further weakened by false claims (e.g., Mr. Ledonne is on a non-existent State Police "watch list"). Similarly, why did she not explain Mr. Ledonne's alleged direct threats against the whole campus? Surely, broad threats would not involve confidentiality. Why did she instead, read a student "endorsement" in support of the PNG, written after it was issued, as opposed to sharing any evidence on which the PNG was based? These inconsistencies and false claims serve as further evidence for the second hypothesis presented in the above article: the PNG was about retaliation, which now must be covered up. As one administrator stated, however this turns out, President McClure must be able to save face.