Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Participatory Lawyering & the Ivory Tower: Conducting a Forensic Law Autopsy in the Aftermath of Virginia Tech

76 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2008 Last revised: 17 Oct 2008

Susan Stuart

Valparaiso University School of Law

Date Written: October 14, 2008


The tragic events at Virginia Tech in 2007 sent a cold wind blowing through the halls of higher education institutions: a Virginia Tech student, who had fallen through the cracks of the school's mental health services and disciplinary procedures, armed himself with firearms and murdered thirty-two students and a professor before committing suicide. In the wake of that massacre, several states and individual interest groups issued reports on campus readiness for similar catastrophes. A consistent theme throughout those reports emphasized the necessity for individual institutions to review their procedures to deal with campus violence.

This Article focuses on that institutional review and the role of lawyers in assisting colleges and universities in formulating better and more comprehensive procedures for preventing campus violence in general, but with an emphasis on preventing similar catastrophes, or at worst, minimizing their devastation. The lawyer has the best opportunity to assist by participating in the process rather than either dictating its conduct or reviewing the product after the fact. Preventive lawyering and collaborating with the academy are the only successful means for adequately addressing comprehensive plans that manage the risks raised by the needs of the new consumer student and that create a campus culture that does not tolerate campus violence. Specifically, this Article summarizes how the lawyer's collaboration with the academy should neatly incorporate the academic ends of the institution with legal ends that could minimize both the harm and the costs of campus violence.

Keywords: campus mental health, campus safety, campus violence, higher education risk management, higher education torts, information sharing, law audit, participatory lawyering, preventive law, student consumerism, threat assessment teams, violent students, Virginia Tech

Suggested Citation

Stuart, Susan, Participatory Lawyering & the Ivory Tower: Conducting a Forensic Law Autopsy in the Aftermath of Virginia Tech (October 14, 2008). Valparaiso University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-12. Available at SSRN: or

Susan Stuart (Contact Author)

Valparaiso University School of Law ( email )

656 S. Greenwich St.
Valparaiso, IN 46383-6493
United States

Paper statistics

Abstract Views