UCLA professors said recent attacks against faculty on campus and at the University of Southern California would not affect how they interact with students.
USC neuroscience professor Bosco Tjan died last Friday after being stabbed in his office. Police arrested David Brown, a former student of Tjan’s, who was still at the scene when police arrived. He was charged with Tjan’s murder Tuesday. Authorities said the murder was targeted but have not discussed a possible motive.
The attack at USC happened a little over six months after the murder of UCLA professor William Klug. Mainak Sarkar, a former student of Klug, shot him in his office before shooting himself. Sarkar claimed in online posts that Klug gave away his computer code without Sarkar’s permission, though both campus officials and colleagues said all intellectual property developed on campus belongs to the university.
UCLA was on lockdown for several hours as law enforcement officials tried to determine whether or not there was still an active shooter on campus.
Harold Monbouquette, associate dean of the school of engineering and a chemical and biomedical engineering professor, said he thought of the UCLA murder-suicide when he heard what had happened at USC. He said the news shocked and saddened him.
“It was a very human response,” Monbouquette said. “Being a professor, you feel closer to the situation, but it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that these incidents are uncommon.”
Zhongtang Li, a teaching assistant and fourth-year doctoral student in chemical engineering at USC, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that he felt unsafe after Tjan’s murder and was questioning how he interacts with his students.
Monbouquette said the murders made him feel unsafe in an irrational way because he knows incidents like these are rare. He added he thinks the campus should reflect and figure out what it can do better to prevent these attacks and how to respond when they do happen.
Other professors agreed that attacks by students on faculty are uncommon and said their interactions with students would not change.
Yoram Cohen, a chemical and biomedical engineering professor, said he was saddened to hear about the loss of a faculty member at the hands of a student, especially after UCLA’s murder-suicide. However, he still feels safe on campus, he said.
“My values and belief in the sanctity of our institution have not been shaken,” Cohen said. “However, I do believe that UCLA can do a lot more to improve the relationships between students and faculty, among students and among faculty.”
Chris Lynch, chair of the mechanical and aerospace engineering department, said he thinks Sarkar had a severe case of mental illness, and that the incidents at USC and UCLA cannot be generalized to a specific profession or field of study.
John Kim, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, said in an email he would be more apprehensive of students’ issues, stresses and concerns and pay attention to students’ general behavior. However, he added he will not change his curriculum or student interactions.
“It is our job to teach students and evaluate them for their learning, so these incidents will not change the way I would interact with students,” Kim wrote.
Adrienne Lavine, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, said in an email she still interacts with students in the same way, but the attacks made her think of how to appropriately act if a student behaved in an irrational or threatening way.
Monbouquette said he thinks UCLA has taken many of the steps it can to reduce the number of these incidents in the future, including installing more classroom locks, training faculty about proper procedure and making students, faculty and staff more aware of the Counseling and Psychological Services program.
He added he thinks CAPS can help not only with students who lash out, but also those who self-harm.
“It’s a matter of the community, looking out for one another,” Monbouquette said. “If you encounter someone who’s distressed, a few kind words can make the difference.”