The Corner

Murder at the University of Virginia

A senior at Patrick Henry College wonders about the difference rules make.

UPDATE: A reader — a graduate student at Harvard — e-mails:

The total number of students enrolled in US colleges and universities is about 15 million (that’s only undergrads, http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/school.html); 325 of those are at Patrick Henry College. If the number of college deaths at Patrick Henry College exactly equaled the national average, it would be 0.02 per 5 years (based on the 857 number your PHC student refers to), or one every 50 years. I’m fine with private colleges setting whatever rules they want for their students, but if this is the best defense he can come up with for the rules imposed by Patrick Henry College, which include martial-law features like a curfew, his case is pretty weak.

The young Beach’s post has problems — there’s clearly something off about his sense of proportion. I linked to it in part because of the novelty (one that I actually encounter frequently) of a college student embracing rules. I don’t think he meant it to be a “best defense” so much as he is trying to think through what he’s experiencing. Via blogs, I suppose, is how the kids do it these days?

UPDATE: A response to the response, from another e-mailer:

Just a quick response to the Harvard grad student’s take on the PHC student blog post.

While it is true, as you also note, that Beach’s original post lacked an adequate “sense of proportion” (something I noticed too, before the update), this observation misses the broader thrust of Beach’s point. Technically, the 0.02 students killed at PHC every 5 years is a correct application of proportional analysis; philosophically, though, it is quite possibly meaningless. The real question at hand isn’t whether Beach has a correct sense of proportion but whether his philosophical argument is adequate, that is, that the intellectual, moral, and social culture upheld by PHC actually provides a basis for students to live in an orderly way (at least so far as not murdering each other). The validity of his philosophical claim is independent of his inadequate use of statistics. Of course, only time will tell whether or not PHC’s record will stand, but even if it doesn’t, this philosophical argument has to be adequately addressed, not brushed over as the Harvard grad student did.

Oh, and by the way, I find it very hard to believe that a curfew can be properly termed a “martial-law feature.” While application of martial law may include state-imposition of curfew, a private college’s rule is a far cry from that. (Using that kind of rhetoric, the grad student undermines the statement commitment to freedom of association). Perhaps if more American colleges had this rule, they would foster a more orderly, morally upright, and intellectually rigorous atmosphere.

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