A surreal scene unfolded around noon on Tuesday. As a gunman shot an instructor at point-blank range in front of a classroom of students, some Purdue professors continued to teach class as if nothing was amiss, ignoring students’ pleas to lock the doors and turn off the lights.
“I’ll have the TA tackle him if he comes in,” joked Professor Rebecca Trax, according to Sami Menard, a student in her 12:00 Introduction to Accounting class.
Trax may very well have been describing the scene that unfolded in the Electrical Engineering building, where a TA was killed.
Trax’s class is held in the Class of 1950 lecture hall, one of the biggest lecture halls at Purdue. It is in these lecture halls that the greatest number of students were vulnerable. Menard and many other students reported that Trax took no precautions whatsoever when the university-wide text messaging system alerted students and faculty to the danger. Lights were left on and doors were left unlocked while she continued to lecture.
Professor Trax was not the only faculty member who disregarded the danger. Student Claire Gordon said that Miyoung Hong, an instructor in the College of Liberal arts, insisted that there were no threats, and propped open a door after another instructor had closed it.
Students also reported that many other professors and instructors made no adjustments. The indifference was not unique to one department or building. Professors teaching in the Physics, University, and Armstrong buildings paid no heed to the warnings. Many students felt unsafe and wanted to leave, but felt they could not because of the shelter-in-place protocol.
Purdue’s ability to communicate accurate information to students about the tragedy was also inconsistent. Students were alerted about the shooting promptly, which allowed many students to seek shelter right away. However, less than an hour after the first shots were fired, Purdue’s automated alert system informed students to “resume normal operations.”
Police scanner reports indicated that officers were still looking for additional shooters at the time this message was sent.
On a day of tragedy and confusion, students displayed frustration with the perceived indifference of faculty and administration. Zach Vander Missen, who was in the classroom directly above the one where the shooting took place, expressed his concern. “I think Purdue needs to rethink how they train their faculty and instructors to respond to these situations.”
It remains to be seen if these events will change how Purdue teaches and enforces emergency protocols. Ron Wright, director of campus emergency preparedness and planning, did not respond to an email asking for comments.
Photo credit: Abhijitsathe
Editor’s note: We’ve removed any references to the conduct of Dr. Alon Kantor from this article after determining that some of the information we received may have been inaccurate. The Review would like to formally apologize to Dr. Kantor for this oversight, and commend him for taking appropriate action.