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Transcript: Va. Lt. Gov. Bolling, GWU President Trachtenberg on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published April 22, 2007 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript of the April 22, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Now more on Virginia Tech. We want to look ahead to any lessons about what we can do to make our schools safer. Joining us are Virginia's lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling, who's in Richmond, and Stephen Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University.
Gentlemen, welcome to "Fox News Sunday".
VIRGINIA LT. GOV. BILL BOLLING: Thank you.
STEPHEN TRACHTENBERG, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: Good morning, Chris.
WALLACE: As the father of college students, I have to say I was shocked this week to learn that someone with all of Cho's problems, someone who had been accused of stalking, someone who had been sent by a judge to get mental health counseling, someone whose writings were so violent that students didn't even want to be in the same class with him, couldn't be removed from school.
Lieutenant Governor Bolling, have our privacy and disability laws gone so far, perhaps too far, in protecting the individual at the expense of protecting the community?
BOLLING: Well, Chris, I think that's a very legitimate question that we have to ask and answer in the wake of this tragedy, especially given what we now know about the problems that the one who committed these crimes had experienced in the past.
As you know, this week Governor Kaine announced that we have appointed a bipartisan commission, a very qualified and diverse commission, to look at a number of the questions that have arisen after this scenario to see if it was handled appropriately from a number of different perspectives.
And looking at these mental health laws and how the interaction took place between the university and the judicial system, and the judicial system and Mr. Cho, is going to be right at the center of the work that that commission does.
WALLACE: Mr. Trachtenberg, last year your school, G.W., suspended a student because of serious mental health problems. And for all of that, he sued you under the Americans With Disabilities Act. And in fact, G.W. had to pay a settlement.
Are school administrators now hamstrung when they want to try to protect the student body?
TRACHTENBERG: Well, they're more thoughtful. Our staff have gone back, revisited our procedures and have made them, I think, more empathetic than they were before.
I was less concerned with what we did in the past, on looking at it, than how we did it. And it seemed to me we weren't as humane in dealing with the individual and concerned enough with their individual rights and balancing them against the community's rights.
I think we probably have got it closer to the way it ought to be now after that case. We learned things from that case.
WALLACE: But I guess what I don't understand — if someone enters a college, don't they give up some rights? If they're going to live in a community, don't they have to give up some rights?
We used to think of schools acting as in loco parentis, but it seems now, with these privacy laws, these disability laws, not only are you prevented from being able to do that in all cases, sometimes you can't even tell the real parents that their kid is in trouble.
TRACHTENBERG: That's actually right. Between the FERPA laws and the Buckley amendment, we can't tell parents students' grades, much less that they are drinking in excess or having psychiatric problems or other kinds of problems.
WALLACE: Well, is there something wrong with that?
TRACHTENBERG: Well, I think it needs to be examined, and that's why I'm very grateful that the governor has appointed this commission, because I don't think we ought to do this episodically.
What we don't need is a series of blinking lights. What we need is a steady glow. And I am looking forward to this report being helpful not only to the Commonwealth of Virginia but to colleges all over the country.
And I hope it will serve as a national beacon that allows the 50 states, District of Columbia and campuses from New York to California to take a look at what we're doing and how we can make it better.
WALLACE: Lieutenant Governor Bolling, there are also questions about whether Cho's history of mental problems should have shown up on the computer background check when he went to buy those guns.
There are reports that Virginia and other states are failing to comply with federal laws about reporting to the federal government so they can put it on the background check when someone has been found to be a mental defective. Is that a problem?
BOLLING: Well, I think that, again, Chris, is another issue that we need to look very closely at. One of the specific issues that the commission that we've appointed in Virginia will look at is whether or not Mr. Cho should have been able to purchase firearms given his history.
Frankly, the information I've received in the last few days from authorities on that question has not been consistent information. I think there are some people who interpret the laws perhaps one way and some who interpret them a different way.
There may be some conflicts between federal laws and state laws. And we need to look at this, I think, from two perspectives.
Number one, in this specific case, was the law properly followed in making sure that Mr. Cho did not get a weapon that he should not have had.
And then there is the more global question as to whether or not the laws that we have in place at the federal and state level right now are really what they ought to be.
And I think we're going to have a discussion about all of those things in the days and weeks to come.
WALLACE: Virginia Tech has banned guns from its campuses for years, but, Lieutenant Governor Bolling, two years ago you told a gun rights group when you were running for election that, in fact, you believed that people with concealed gun permits should be allowed to bring guns on campus.
If that had been the case, do you think that that might have prevented this tragedy?
BOLLING: Well, I don't know, Chris. I mean, those are — you know, I have historically been a very strong defender of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. I still am.
But all of these what-if scenarios — quite frankly, I don't think we know the answers to those questions. I can't answer that question. I don't think anyone else can answer that question.
I will tell you that it's kind of natural, I guess, in the wake of a tragedy like this, that you hear folks on one hand saying, "Well, if we had had tighter gun laws, this wouldn't have happened," and on the other hand, you hear folks saying, "Well, if we would have just let people arm themselves, this wouldn't have happened."
The truth is we don't know the answer to that question. And to be quite frank, I don't have a lot of time for folks on either side of that issue right now who want to take advantage of a situation like this to ride their political hobby horse.
We still have families who are burying loved ones. And that's where our emphasis is right now. It's on these families. It's trying to help them get through this difficult time.
And these other things are legitimate questions. They will be asked and answered in due course of time. But right now, I think we need to keep our focus on the things that matter most, and that's these families who have lost sons and daughters and husbands and wives.
WALLACE: Mr. Trachtenberg, how do you feel about guns on campus? And what about this argument that some people have raised this week that if, let's say, professors were able to have guns in their class, they could protect against this kind of event?
TRACHTENBERG: I think those arguments are overheated. Not only do we not allow guns on campus, our security officers are not armed with firearms.
Given the data on the infrequency of use of firearms by conventional police officers, which suggests that it's very, very rare, I don't think we need guns on a university campus, particularly one like George Washington University, which is located in the midst of a city and is supported by security from the metropolitan district police, and is adjacent to security services from the Secret Service, and the FBI and many other security officers.
WALLACE: I want to ask you, Mr. Trachtenberg, about one other issue, and that was the two-hour-delay in notifying the larger student body about the initial tragedy.
WALLACE: I'm not asking you to second-guess what happened at Virginia Tech. I'm asking you as a college president what you would do.
If there were a double homicide at G.W., and the killer were still at large, even if you suspected it's a domestic attack, would you alert the campus community?
TRACHTENBERG: Well, your concern, obviously, is by alerting the community, are you perhaps unleashing other devils. Are you putting terror into the hearts of the campus, people doing things that might injure them in other ways.
I suspect we would, given the choice of yes or no, because we would immediately notify the metropolitan district police if we were aware of something like that, and I think they would insist on it.
We have a very good communications system on campus — not perfect, but much improved after 9/11, when we reviewed our security services and enhanced them considerably.
But inevitably, this is Monday morning quarterbacking. And it's trying to apply theory to practice — always, always daunting. I suspect in the end what we would do is what the security professionals thought was in the best interest of our community and our students.
WALLACE: Let me ask you, because you brought up another issue here. Obviously, G.W., urban campus on, what, 20 square blocks in the city of Washington, is very different than Virginia Tech, on a campus of 2,600 acres with thousands of students commuting to the campus.
But give us a sense. You say you've upgraded your systems since 9/11. Just, if you can, tick off the kinds of ways in which, if you need to send an alert to your students, you can do so.
TRACHTENBERG: Well, there's more technology than ever before. And we now have ways to electronically post and send warnings. We have blast e-mails. We have a variety of things.
We've even enhanced the communications between the dean's offices, for example, and the president's office, so if the regular telephone system were to go out, we have other means of...
WALLACE: All these kids have cell phones. Can you text message?
TRACHTENBERG: We can, indeed. We can text message. The District of Columbia has a central information scheme that we can put information on so it would be available to anybody who had signed up for it.
We do everything, given the right situation. We have somebody running around posting written notices on the doors of buildings. It's primitive, but it works. So we've got things both technological and 18th century.
But we've also got more personnel, and we've trained the personnel differently, and we've made different services available to students, and we talk about this at inauguration when the kids come to campus for the first time.
So it's part of the culture now that you need to be looking after each other, that this is a community, and that you're in the middle of the city, and that every student has a responsibility to be concerned for the welfare of every other student.
WALLACE: We're going to have to leave it there. President Trachtenberg, Lieutenant Governor Bolling, we want to thank you both so much for talking with us today.
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