Dear Readers: For those of you late to this saga, please check out College “Confidential,” Costa Rican Edition: What Did Darrel Do? for background.
The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle has published the “CARE Team Report,” in its entirety. Late yesterday, a judge lifted the restraining order prohibiting the newspaper from doing its job.
As one might expect, the details of the report do not a tale of illicit sub-tropical romance tell. All in all what happened in Costa Rica, or rather who it happened to, should have stayed in Cheyenne. For those of you who do not care to plod through sixteen pages of highly repetitive verbiage, I’ll summarize: a student with severe psychological problems was a member of the group who traveled to Costa Rica to do field work. The student had medications with her, but apparently took them irregularly. The burden of caring for this student, which included dispensing her medication, taking precautions to keep her from cutting herself or otherwise doing herself harm, comforting her during periods of agitation, and monitoring her behavior 24/7 fell to students and faculty on the trip. The students and faculty member who describe what they had to do to keep the disturbed student glued together for the duration of the trip document extraordinary compassion on the part of individuals neither trained nor compensated to take on such tasks.
President Hammon, in his statement, denies any prior knowledge of the student’s condition, other than that she was taking medication. Fair enough. But after learning that the student was unable or unwilling to take the proper dosage of her medication, after knowing that the student was actively looking for ways to cut herself, after knowing that the student had bashed her head repeatedly against a sink to induce bleeding, after knowing that the student repeatedly stated she heard voices, what does Darrel do? Let him tell you in his own words: “I visited with [her] and discussed her situation. In essence I gave her six items she had to do in order to stay on the trip….after visiting with her I felt that she would complete and adhere to what she and I had talked about.” (See page twelve of the CARE report for the rest of the president’s remarks.)
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Almost as stupid as attempting to block publication of the CARE document. But not as stupid as what Darrel did next. The student wanted to purchase a machete to bring home to her father as a souvenir of la vida loca; unbelievably, President Humminna-humminna-humminna agrees that a big, sharp, lethal blade would make a swell gift for dad, and lets the student make the purchase. The same student who was not allowed to use a butter knife at dinner? The same student who had the desperate urge to cut herself so that the consequent bleeding would make the voices in her head go away? The same student who more than once on the trip stated her desire to kill herself? Yup. That student. Says the president, he authorized the purchase only after “some negotiation, and compromise and against better judgment.”
At this point the sorry tale ends with President Vanilla Clusters telling the student she must return the machete, the student’s running into traffic then taking refuge behind a semi, and a daring rescue effected by “Jose, the tour guide.”
All (sin Jose) make the long trip home to Wyoming in one piece. There the story picks up when alarmed students notify the college that maybe somebody better look into the poor girl’s choice of major: nursing.
This saga is a classic for a case study in higher education administration, and it raises a number of challenging and interesting issues: Did the student fail to make appropriate disclosures? Did the college–as certainly seems the case–fail to set appropriate pre-conditions for allowing students to participate in off-campus programs? What protections, if any, was the student entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act? Quite apart from the student-related issues, there also remains the question of the very poor decision to keep the CARE report confidential. What would have been a one-day story on the local level escalated to a sensational article in the national press, and an opportunity for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle to engage in a crusade on behalf of the First Amendment.
I’ve gotten out of the habit of dispensing advice to college presidents–they rarely listen, anyway–but have two things to say to President Hammon: 1) If you’d come clean in the first place, a sanitized “executive summary” of the report would have probably satisfied even the most puriently curious onlooker. 2) “Negotiation” and “compromise” are concepts the deeply disturbed have difficulty understanding, no matter how hard they may try or dearly they may want to.