Aggression Management Intervention System (AMIS) Approach to Aberrant, Disruptive, and/or Aggressive Behavior in Higher Education

In an endeavor to “do what is in the best interest of the student,” an increasing number of institutions are acknowledging their responsibility to their students as surrogate parents under the doctrine of “In loco parentis.” Implied within this doctrine is the requirement to prevent aggression and violence not merely react to it. Research has determined that from the Moment of Commitment (the point when a student pulls his weapon and begins firing) to the Moment of Completion (when the last round is discharged) is only 5 seconds. Those institutions whose policy is Crisis Management, i.e., react to this violence; will do so over the students, faculty and staff slain during that first 5 seconds. Prevention is the only responsible and defensible solution.

In our experience with higher education across the Nation, we have observed three distinct approaches to aberrant, disruptive, and/or aggressive behavior among students. Some believe these are merely misguided youths who need proper guidance by a responsible adult. Others see this behavior as a possible or potential mental illness issue and still others approach this behavior from the perspective of criminality. Too often we find students like Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, falling between the gaps formed by these three approaches.

Those who perceive this behavior in terms of its criminality should understand that Law enforcement officers are restricted to thresholds of “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause.” If officers take any official action beyond a simple conversation without meeting one of these thresholds; it will most certainly put themselves and their school district at great risk of liability.

Those with the perspective that these behaviors are potentially mental health issues, should read the following quote from the Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy, June 13, 2007, which states, “Most people who are violent do not have a mental illness, and most people who have mental illness are not violent. Those with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence, not perpetrators.”

Those who believe these behaviors are merely the actions of misguided youths will be right much of the time, but what about when they are wrong. First, these individuals rely on their intuition to identify when youthful behavior turns aggressive. The problem with intuition is that most will not put their reputations and possibly their jobs on the line based upon intuition alone; so they do nothing until it becomes an incident and is too late. Second, they rely on certain strata or layered programs that address specific behaviors such as conflict with programs like Conflict Resolution. The problem with Conflict Resolution is that it presupposes conflict; these individuals are already passed any chance to prevent conflict. Since there are students who will express their conflict with violence, if we wish to prevent violence we must first prevent conflict. These programs fail because they are reactionary, not preventive.

Because Aggression Management Intervention System (AMIS) isolates aggressive behavior based objectively upon either adrenaline-driven or intent-driven aggression, we can segregate threatening behavior from behavior that simply needs the guidance of a responsible adult or the help of a mental health counselor. AMIS serves both those who are concerned about the potential of another Virginia Tech Shooting incident and those that wish to apply intelligent guidance and nurturing. It separates risk management issues from psychosocial issues.


  1. Surely the concern should not be solely with the individual student causing the problem but with the disruption to other students and facilitators. Your reference to Virginia Tech is an argument for this line of thinking. Prevention is an absolute must but intervention in a pre-existing situation should not be taken lightly either.

  2. John D Byrnes

    Yes, I have been applying this understanding for a couple of years in Higher Education and it really resonates well with those throughout Higher Education who have the responsibility of looking out for the well being of students.

  3. John D Byrnes

    Our plan is to identify emerging aggression as it occurs and often this is done so by observing the aggressor’s behavior toward another, with a focus on the precursors to an incident enabling us to prevent and diffuse any aggression.

  4. Good luck getting people behind this one. Though you make some VERY fascinating points, youre going to have to do more than bring up a few things that may be different than what weve already heard. What are trying to say here? What do you want us to think? It seems like you cant really get behind a unique thought. Anyway, thats just my opinion.

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  6. John D Byrnes

    Painter 11, I am not sure what your question is?  I have offered a new and unique perspective.  What you choose to do with this information is clearly in your court.  If you wish more, my book, “Before Conflict, Preventing Aggressive Behavior is a possible option.  You can find it on my web site or on Amazon.


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