The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth didn’t turn Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into a terrorist, any more than Harvard made Ted Kaczynksi the Unabomber. But the university has come under a harsh spotlight since it emerged that the 19-year-old Boston Marathon bombing suspect lived in a dorm room on campus, where he is remembered as an intramural soccer player, marijuana peddler, and mediocre student.
To its credit, the university isn’t dodging questions. “We owe it to the Commonwealth” to probe the school’s conduct, Chancellor Divina Grossman told the Globe’s Adrian Walker. The school must examine its interactions with Tsarnaev, and also with his three friends, Dias Kadyrbayev, Azamat Tazhayakov, and Robel Phillipos. Police say the three friends, former students at UMass Dartmouth, had no knowledge of the bombings beforehand but destroyed evidence and misled police in the investigation that followed.
The school’s inquiry also needs to fill in some details: Did officials miss any signs of trouble with Tsarnaev? Was the safety of other students ever in danger? How did Tsarnaev and some of his friends manage to stay in school despite their mediocre grades and, in Tsarnaev’s case, a $20,000 unpaid tuition bill? When Kadyrbayev dropped out, an action that should have invalidated his student visa but apparently did not, were all the proper immigration authorities immediately notified?
As the university is lacerated on blogs and mocked in The Onion, it would be easy to circle the wagons. But Grossman’s openness to self-examination should be commended — and emulated. Along their path to extremism, one or both of the Tsarnaev brothers also passed through many other community institutions: schools, religious groups, athletic teams, gyms, workplaces. None of them bears responsibility for the brothers’ actions, but all ought to seek any lessons that can be learned.