Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Point Where You Need to Stop Listening To Your Lawyers

Despite years of work to stamp it out, hazing remains a serious issue on many college and university campuses. The most recent case to make headlines involved the death of Robert Champion at Florida A&M in a hazing incident last year.

Note that the facts are not particularly in dispute here. The autopsy report (you can get to it through the story linked above) ruled his death a homicide. The university's president subsequently resigned.

Unsurprisingly, Champion's parents have sued several defendants, including the university. One presumes that the Florida A&M legal team has been preparing for this since day one - this lawsuit was as predictable as the sunrise.

But rather than try to reach a settlement - much as Penn State has indicated it will do with the victims of its recent scandal - FAMU has decided to fight the suit in court. And, apparently listening to the "admit nothing, contest everything" school of legal defense, they have adopted this as their primary response:
Florida A&M Blames Victim in Hazing Death
That's right - in a case of verified homicide, the university has decided that being a murder victim was the victim's own fault. Never mind the volumes of research about the psychological pressures that lead people to participate in hazing, establishing beyond a doubt that the answer to hazing has never been Nancy Reagan's "Just say no."

There comes a time, especially in extraordinary cases like this, where you should stop listening to your lawyers, fall on your sword, and do the right thing. If this lawsuit goes before a jury, it's hard to imagine a group of 12 folks - some of them likely parents themselves - accepting this line of argument. Moreover, even if they do manage to "win" the lawsuit, they will be forever known as the university that blamed the murder victim for his own death.

Frankly, I find it hard to say much more about this. This is so obviously horrible, such a clear failure of both moral vision and rational self-interest, that it boggles the mind. One wonders how the rest of the university community, or its alumni base, will react. I hope that some group - perhaps the faculty, or alumni, or students themselves - can put a stop to this madness before the current administration destroys what's left of the institution's credibility.

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