Questions Abound for a Homeless Engineering Department

April 18, 2007

Blacksburg, Va. — While investigators comb through what used to be their building, the top minds of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering are working out of a nondescript conference room in Durham Hall. Associate deans, papers, computers, and a single telephone share a long rectangular table with bowls of M&M’s and mixed nuts.

At one end sits Richard C. Benson, the dean, staring at a laptop computer and scrolling through hundreds and hundreds of unread messages. The messages, with subject lines like “Thinking of you,” “Deeply moved,” and “Prayers,” have come from engineering colleges as far away as Russia and Japan.

Mr. Benson’s office was on the third floor of Norris Hall, where the shootings happened. He and his colleagues have a lot to figure out because Norris Hall’s classrooms — renovated just last summer with new carpeting and desks — are now a crime scene. It’s anybody’s guess how long the investigation will last.

Some engineering students and faculty members say they never want to return to Norris. Others are impatient for their belongings: When can they get their cell phones, drivers’ licenses, purses, and keys, all of which they left behind when they fled the building?

And everyone has questions. Will they need new laptops so they can start trying to get back to work? Where will the department’s faculty and administrative offices go?

Mr. Benson says things will work out. At the convocation on Tuesday, he says, several deans offered “anything you need.” —Robin Wilson