UnsafeU Statement Regarding University of Utah Safety Committees

The University of Utah has recently announced the creation of two committees related to campus safety: The Public Safety Advisory Committee and the Independent Review Committee. These committees will both be overseen by executive officer Keith Squires. While the Public Safety Advisory Committee seems like an excellent initiative to involve students in campaigns and safety efforts across campus, UnsafeU has grave concerns about these the so-called “Independent Review Committee” and does not believe that this is an adequate substitute for our demands for an independent review commission.

First, the appointment of Keith Squires as the executive officer who will oversee these committees raises significant concerns. Over the course of the past year, UnsafeU, the Daily Utah Chronicle, and the Salt Lake Tribune have all highlighted concerns with the independent review process and findings. Several reports to UnsafeU from those who participated in the process made it clear that this investigation was never independent. Student statements given in the investigation were heavily edited from their original form and were censored by university officials. University representatives were in attendance for each and every student statement given. In addition, the final report from the review claimed that there was “no evidence” that Lauren’s murder could have been prevented — language that the University of Utah has clenched on to evade responsibility for real accountability and transparency measures. Keith Squires is an inappropriate, biased, and worrisome choice to oversee these committees. Any investigations conducted under his purview should not be trusted by students or by the public given his failure to lead an appropriate review after Lauren’s murder. He will not ensure accountability from the University of Utah.

Second, UnsafeU does not believe that a committee housed under and run byUniversity of Utah affiliates can ever be “independent.” This committee is merely the wolves guarding the henhouse. While UnsafeU believes that the inaugural chair, Amos Guiora, will do the best he can in heading up this committee, the fact remains that he will be constrained by institutional factors. First, the Independent Review Committee does not have subpoena power. They can request or ask for information, but the university is not obligated to provide that information. Second, the Independent Review Committee is only given authority to investigate public safety issues. A significant percentage of issues raised regarding investigations at the U did not involve the Department of Public Safety. The Office of the Dean of Student and the Office of Equal Opportunity are indicated by dozens of students, alumni, and staff members as inappropriately handling Title IX and discrimination investigations. The Independent Review Committee does not have any authority to investigate investigations outside of the Department of Public Safety.

UnsafeU is continuing to work and advocate for a statewide commission that would have the authority to investigate any department at any public institution in the state of Utah alleged to have inappropriately handled investigations pertaining to safety, including Title IX and discrimination cases. Furthermore, the University of Utah has clearly indicated that they intend to continue withholding cooperation and evidence for investigations. They must be compelled to provide evidence, not just be trusted to voluntarily comply. A true independent commission must have the power of subpoena to compel the release of all relevant records and information when these cases are brought to a commission for review.

Time for Change