Monday, August 19, 2013

Academic Fear Is Good For Business

There is nothing like fear to boost business. As we've pulled out of wars, defense contractors have naturally looked to make the U.S.-Mexico border a war zone. Now they're heading to college campuses.

When University of Maryland at Eastern Shore faculty return to campus this fall, they’ll find a new tool in their teaching arsenal. Each classroom will be equipped with a new whiteboard, measuring 18 by 20 inches and weighing a little less than four pounds. They come in snazzy colors like pink, blue and green. 
Oh, and they’re bulletproof. Couldn’t hurt, right? 
It's a potentially life-saving tool, a last line of defense in the event of an active shooter situation, and that was basically the thinking behind President Juliette B. Bell’s decision to spend $598,000 on the whiteboards/shields.

This floored me, not only for the sheer stupidity (what the hell are you really going to do with that??) but also for the cost. Public universities are badly squeezed these days, and $600K goes a long way.

Random acts of gun violence on campus are very scary, almost impossible to prevent but--most importantly--extremely rare. It is so tempting, so tempting, to do "something" so that we can tell each other we're safer even though that is a lie. If there is something to do, it is to make sure our campus police are trained to respond effectively to these very uncommon events.

What we also need to do collectively is to resist the fear that is pushing these sorts of initiatives. We're being manipulated by businesses that peddle fear:

But security experts, while not speaking directly to the viability or potential effectiveness of the whiteboards, suggested it’s wise to think big.

That says it all. It doesn't matter whether these things work or not. Be afraid, and we'll explain how to spend money to be less afraid. Campus administrators are fearful that if something happens then they will be blamed if they had rejected the whiteboards. So buy the whiteboards. Of course, that company will come back with something else later, and fear will make you buy that too.


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