Minn. colleges say they watch for warning signs in studentsby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The man accused in the shooting rampage in Tuscon that killed six people and left 14 wounded, among them U.S. Rep. Gabriel Giffords, had a history of disruptive behavior at the community college he attended.
In the wake of the shooting, Minnesota colleges say they monitor such behavior, and try to keep it from turning violent.
At the University of Minnesota, a faculty members report students who act strangely and disrupt class to a behavior consultation team.
It's a group made up of people from across the university, from counselors to campus police. The team evaluates the severity of any troubling actions by students.
Once or twice a year a student is kicked out for their behavior, said Jerry Rinehart, the U's vice provost for student affairs. But most incidents don't call for that.
"The vast majority don't rise to that level and we're able to deal with them in a more developmental and supportive way to get students back on track," he said.
University officials watch for patterns of unusual behavior among students, but they don't alert authorities off campus unless a student is threatening violence, Rinehart said.
In Arizona, the community college attended by accused shooter Jared Loughner, suspended him over erratic behavior. But the college didn't bring their concerns to local law enforcement because Loughner didn't threaten anyone.
However, Loughner's algebra instructor was concerned about the safety of his students, and he feared Loughner was going to bring a gun to school.
Most U.S. colleges developed teams to monitor disturbing student behavior after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. They're set up to watch for warning signs that a student is thinking about committing some act of violence.
At Century College in White Bear Lake, a team monitors student behavior and watch out for warning signs that could lead to violence, said Kristin Hageman, the college's conduct officer and dean of student life.
"I think we're doing better, because of some of the incidents, trying to connect the dots and trying to keep an eye on a few students," who is on the team.
Students who disrupt class at Century College are asked to meet with counselors. If the disruption is because of a mental illness, the student can be told they need to be treated before they can come back to class.
At Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights, a team of school leaders pieces together incidents from across campus to see if they indicate a student has bigger problems, said Barbara Read, the college's vice president for student affairs.
"This is for those cases where a student may have an outburst in a secretary's office on one side of campus, but then soon after they have an altercation with a student or an argument with a student, or then they write something in an English journal that's disturbing," she said.
Read said most incidents can be taken care of in-house by asking a student to work with a counselor. Like other colleges in Minnesota, Inver Hills only calls police if a student is making threats.
Jared Loughner's community would have most likely called the authorities if the student would have made a threat of some kind, said Brian Van Brunt, president of the American College Counseling Association.
"However if you have a student who's acting erratic in class, isn't following along with classroom rules, is frustrating other students, that's not something that goes to the local police," Van Brunt said.
Van Brunt said it's hard for colleges, even if they're closely monitoring student behavior, to make a connection between odd and erratic behavior and violence.
- Morning Edition, 01/11/2011, 8:40 a.m.