Pima Community College acted appropriately in mandating that Tuscon shooter Jared Loughner obtain a mental exam, according to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Loughner, 22, has been charged in the Saturday shooting of 19 people, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He dropped out of Pima in October after the school told him he could not keep attending unless he had a psychiatric evaluation.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Duncan supported the college's handling of the case.
"If I was the chancellor of that community college, I think that would have been my response," Duncan said. " ... My question is, lots of folks have mental issues. How's he get a gun?"
Loughner's case raises complex questions of how colleges should handle worrisome students. The fine balance between supporting the mentally ill and abiding by the law presents a quagmire for colleges -- and larger society. "This issue has vexed society and psychiatry forever," said Columbia University assistant professor of clinical psychiatry David Leibow.
According to the New York Times, schools are to this day ill-equipped to handle students who exhibit potentially violent warning signs:
Even after the 2007 massacre by a student at Virginia Tech, institutions and employers are seldom set up to handle such potential threats, experts say -- even when the warning signs are blatant and numerous.
These institutions typically have no single person or center that tracks the sorts of complaints that teachers and fellow students were making about Mr. Loughner. Nor do they have the legal authority to force people into treatment against their will.
Loughner's odd behavior at Pima had raised flags with several of his professors and lead to a handful of run-ins with campus police. The school notified Loughner's parents that their son needed a mental examination to continue in school. Beyond that, according to Leibow, there was little they could do.
Still, many who came in contact with Loughner, including Kent Slinker, his Pima philosophy professor, say that the student did not exhibit conventional warning signs. "I never sensed violence from him," Slinker told Slate.