[Milton-L] Student referrals

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 18 07:54:37 EDT 2007

Cynthia's correct. I had a student similar to this young man in circumstances in one of my classes: he was the son of affluent parents who had apparently shunted him off to this or that boarding school for most of his life, here alone from India. He was very gifted in computer science, but arrogant in his approach to young women (because he was painfully insecure), and unable to attract a girlfriend despite the fact that he was nice-looking; most of the males in the class avoided contact with him too. I worked with him extensively, one-on-one, and tried to help him acclimate to the campus culture. He seemed to appreciate the attention; he was lonely, and spent most school holidays (including spring break and Christmas) on campus, on his own.

The school put in a new computer security system which (shades of the Titanic) they announced as "virtually invincible"--and he came to my office the next day, and told me he could compromise it, easily. He was planning to do that, to show them that it wasn't as failsafe as they thought--I told him he would take down more than the students' Internet and e-mail use if he did that, and had better get the president's permission first. He found other means of pointing out the weaknesses to the appropriate authorities.

Then he came to me and said that though most of the guys considered him a "geek," he could bend spoons with his mind, and make other things happen simply by willing them to occur. I became very concerned. (This was more than fantasy.) I alerted my department chair, who told me to contact the school psychologist. She said that other faculty members had expressed similar worries, but that unless the student voluntarily came to her, there was nothing she could do.

I suggested to him that he might want to talk things over with her--that it might make him feel less anxious about things. I don't know if he ever went to see her; but when he grossly plagiarized his final paper in my class (from three different sources) I again alerted the chair, and asked that he be present when I confronted the boy.

We met in the chair's office. I presented the evidence (including the three internet sites from which he had taken very incompatible statements verbatim). I told him that I would not refer him to the Honors Committee, but that he would receive an "F for my class, and have to repeat it. The young man laughed--and thanked me--saying something about wanting to concentrate more on his computer classes, anyway!

He was expelled the following term for misconduct. I don't know the details, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was something to do with his aberrant behavior.

I think we need to do the same kind of background checks on students during the admissions process that we do on new employees, and retroactively on existing students who exhibit any form of aberrant behavior--before it escalates as this did. The young man in Blacksburg had a history of stalking and other antisocial behavior--anyone old enough to remember "Son of Sam" will recognizes the similarities in their profiles--the loner everyone knew was "weird," and so on. Too many lives have been lost--at Columbine, at Blacksburg, and elsewhere--to justify not establishing some sort of security profile on potential students, whether the applicants consider that a violation of their civil rights or not. 

This is going to take a lot of getting over.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes."--Desiderius Erasmus

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