University of Utah professors will now be required to include a statement in their course syllabuses that lists the phone number for campus police and directs students to call there with concerns — a move that comes after four students at the school have been killed over the past two years.
“We’ve had all of these high profile cases,” said Julio Facelli, president of the U.’s academic senate. “And this is an effort by the university to try to make campus a little safer.”
The idea came out of a task force formed to focus on security after the murder of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey last fall. About a year before that, ChenWei Guo, an international student, was shot to death on campus. And since, two women — Sarah Hawley and MacKenzie Lueck — have been killed.
Kaitlin McLean, a student who sat on the task force as a senior last year, said those slayings shaped her college experience. She decided to draft the language for the syllabus requirement as one way to let all students know who they can contact in an emergency. And the academic senate approved it in April.
The statement says: “The University of Utah values the safety of all campus community members. To report suspicious activity or to request a courtesy escort, call campus police at 801-585-COPS (801-585-2677). You will receive important emergency alerts and safety messages regarding campus safety via text message. For more information regarding safety and to view available training resources, including helpful videos, visit safeu.utah.edu.”
The policy will take effect this fall, though some professors — and McCluskey’s parents — have raised concerns.
Jill McCluskey said in an email Tuesday that the new requirement is “inadequate and bare bones.” Her daughter was killed Oct. 22 outside her dorm by a man she briefly dated, who later died by suicide. Lauren had called campus police several times to report that she was worried about her safety and that she was being harassed and stalked. The officers there did little to help, according to a later independent review.
Instead of only including the police phone number, Jill McCluskey would prefer that the U. campus safety statement also provide contact information for Utah Domestic Violence Coalition — at 800-897-5465 — and counseling resources.
“It only directs students to contact campus police who have shown with their actions that they do not believe women who are being threatened and do not respond with urgency,” Jill McCluskey said.
She has recently shared on social media a version of a syllabus statement that she crafted for her own use as a professor at Washington State University. She calls it “Lauren’s Promise.” It starts: “I will listen and believe you if someone is threatening you.”
“If students need assistance accessing support from intimate partner danger, the resources are listed,” Jill McCluskey wrote in a series of tweets last week. She asked U. President Ruth Watkins: “Are you willing to make Lauren’s Promise?"
The McCluskey family is suing the university in a $56 million civil rights case, alleging campus police could have done more to prevent their daughter’s killing — and that Watkins has been irresponsible in insisting otherwise. Since then, the U.’s police chief has announced he will retire.
A handful of professors are also upset with the required syllabus statement — though their concerns focus more on not having control over what they hand out to their students.
“We’re not opposed to doing things to make our campus safe, of course,” said Ann Engar, a professor and one of the six members of the academic senate who voted against the measure. “But the purpose of the syllabus is to outline the course. There are other avenues for the safety information.”
Already, professors are asked to include a Title IX statement in their syllabuses that includes resources for those who have experienced sexual harassment or assault. Many also have a note about accessibility and accommodations.
“The university keeps putting more and more things in our syllabus,” Engar added. “One professor said it’s becoming a bulletin board.”
Zhou Yu, who also voted against the measure and teaches family and consumer studies at the U., said his students have complained that syllabuses include too much information that isn’t related to the class, assignments and readings. He asked the academic senate that the safety statement be recommended instead of required.
“I think right now, close to 30 percent of the information is not directly relevant to the course that I teach,” he said.
Both Yu and Engar said professors are concerned about safety and McCluskey’s death, but think the police phone number should instead be shared on the school’s website or at new student orientations.
McLean, the student who pushed for the statement, said other universities in the Pac-12 have similar requirements. She also noted that she wrote the paragraph so that it would be as short as possible. That’s why there’s a link for safeu.utah.edu instead of direct numbers for domestic violence resources and advocates — those are instead listed on the website.
Additionally, McLean added, the required statement passed unanimously in both the student senate — which she led — and the student assembly. And every student, she said, is given a syllabus, so she believes that’s the most effective way to reach everyone on campus.
“It’s worth it even if just one student reads that,” suggested McLean, who will be attending medical school at the U. in the fall. “I’m under no guise that adding this information to course syllabuses is going to prevent any future tragedies on campus. But I want people to be aware of the resources.”
Facelli, president of the academic senate, said he also believes it will be an “extremely effective way” to get the information out. He is currently vice chairman of the U.’s Department of Biomedical Informatics.
To ensure that professors are following the requirement, the chairs and vice chairs of each department must check off each class syllabus before the semester starts. That process began last year after a graduate student wrote in her syllabus that students with concealed guns would be forced to stand in a “3x3 taped square” in the back of the classroom.
She was later reassigned, and the review policy for syllabuses was put in place.