On May 9 and 10, The Salt Lake Tribune published news reports on the University of Utah police proposal and the University Academic Senate's narrow approval of a policy to "prohibit recreational, athletic or other use of a non-motorized riding device on university premises unrelated to participation in university-related activities."
Both reports mentioned a university professor who had been seriously injured by a skateboarder. I am that professor.
During final exam week of spring semester last year, I was walking uphill from my office to my car on the north side of campus. Six skateboarders wearing helmets but carrying no books or backpacks were accelerating down the inclined sidewalk heading south, directly toward me. They had spread out shoulder to shoulder to take up the entire width of the sidewalk.
The skateboarder nearest to me looked me directly in the eye and, rather than trying to avoid hitting me, deliberately lowered his shoulder and intentionally slammed into me, knocking me off my feet. He didn't stop, and the six continued on, laughing.
The next morning I sought medical care and found that my left shoulder and right hip had both been injured badly enough to require joint replacement surgery. As a consequence, I had to take a medical leave of absence for the following semester, cancel the classes I was scheduled to teach, and resign my responsibilities as director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program. I was not able to resume my full-time faculty teaching until eight months later.
I had no shortage of attorneys who offered to represent me in a major lawsuit against the University of Utah over that incident. If the outcome of that assault (as indeed it was) had resulted in worse injuries I would have taken them up on their offer.
For years, the university has sought to build a pedestrian-friendly campus. The extensive network of wide sidewalks, and the handicapped-accessible curbs and inclines are a welcome part of the campus experience for those of us who have walked these paths for years. At the same time, they have become a prime location for increasing numbers of skateboarders who use those sidewalks as a free skateboard park.
Mixing pedestrians and skateboarders in any location is a truly bad idea. No skateboard park in Utah allows pedestrians to walk in and among the boarders for the same reasons athletic events aren't held in vehicle traffic, and schools aren't located in the middle of skateboard parks.
Thousands of people walk the network of sidewalks across the campus each day. It's hard to believe that the university would be willing to put the unsponsored recreation of a small number of students above the safety and accessibility of those people who have no choice but to use those sidewalks to get to their classes, labs and offices.
The university is tasked with making the campus a safe place for everyone. It behooves the university now to put pedestrian safety first and implement the policy the University Senate has already approved.
Some members of the Senate claim that the presence of skateboarders in the pedestrian walkways gives the university the appearance of being "a happening place." May I suggest that continuing to mix pedestrians and skateboarders will create "happenings," but not perhaps the kind some are looking for.
Injuries are preventable. I don't want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.
Leonard C. Hawes is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah, where he has been a faculty member since 1980.