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Guest opinion: University of Utah puts your childrens’ safety in their own hands

A cross with a photo of Lauren McCluskey hangs outside the McCluskey home on Friday, May 24, 2019, in Pullman, Wash. Lauren McCluskey was murdered in October 2018 on the University of Utah campus.
A cross with a photo of Lauren McCluskey hangs outside the McCluskey home on Friday, June 24, 2019, in Pullman, Wash. Lauren was murdered in October 2018 on the University of Utah campus.
Geoff Crimmins, For the Deseret News

The University of Utah filed a motion last week to dismiss a lawsuit against it in the case of Lauren McCluskey’s murder. The defendants claim the university is not at fault for McCluskey’s death since her attacker was unaffiliated with the school.

This latest proclamation from the University of Utah’s administration and its legal defense team suggests an official university position about which President Ruth Watkins should be ashamed; the university’s students, staff and faculty should be embarrassed; and the parents of every student at the U. should be extremely concerned.

It reveals an underlying attitude or institutional strategy that suggests the administration turned a blind eye toward what should have been learned from the brutal murder and associated institutional failures underlying McCluskey’s tragic death. It also suggests that the university’s new safety slogans, administrative speeches and mechanical policies and procedures may be motivated more by perceived public relations necessities than by a real understanding of campus safety deficiencies. Unfortunately, the stated position follows a consistent string of careless statements that are detached from reality.

In short, it seems the U. believes it has an obligation to provide for the safety of your children so long as their potential rapist or murderer is one of its own students, staff or faculty. However, if the assailant is not affiliated with the university, your children, like Lauren McCluskey, are on their own and left to their own defenses, with the U. suggesting they then have no obligation or responsibility in the matter.

I am sorry to underscore that within such a nonsensical context, your children would indeed be fully on their own, as was clearly and tragically demonstrated by the result of Lauren’s pleas for help from the Salt Lake City Police Department. She made those pleas in desperation, following the lack of support from the campus police, only to be returned by the SLCPD back to the campus police, who, according to the university and in coming full circle, are apparently absolved of responsibility to provide for the safety of a student whose attacker is not affiliated with the university. So, who is your child left to turn to in that context? No one. Your children are on their own.

I doubt that there is anyone inside or outside of Utah, including the administrators and lawyers who drafted this proclamation, who honestly believes that students should be on their own when rapists and murderers happen not to be either students or employees of a university. How ridiculous can a university policy be?

I call on the students, staff, faculty and alumni, as well as anyone else who cares about this magnificent university — a school that Lauren loved — to demand an end to this inept, embarrassing and reputation-harming leadership at the U. The university is better than this.

Ron Mittelhammer is a regents professor in the School of Economic Sciences at Washington State University.