Gregory A. Clark: The apology the U. owes the McCluskey familiy

University of Utah President Ruth Watkins, left, with John Nielsen, a former commissioner for public safety, speaks at a news conference presenting the findings of a review of the Lauren McCluskey case, in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

To Jill and Matt McCluskey and others,

Please allow me to say publicly what I expect many of us feel, but what the University of Utah administration too often has been too slow or unwilling to say clearly and unambiguously: I’m sorry.

I’m sorry most of all for the loss of your daughter, Lauren McCluskey. At least the U. now expresses sorrow, too, as evident in the comments of then-Vice President of Student Affairs Barbara Snyder on NBC’s “Dateline.”

No parent should have their child murdered — least of all, when that murder was reasonably foreseeable and preventable. That you were on the telephone talking to Lauren when it happened, knowing it was happening, and were unable to stop it, although desperately wanting and trying to — it staggers the imagination. I am sorry for your pain.

I’m sorry that so many people failed so repeatedly to act appropriately on your daughter’s legitimate concerns (“…She kept calling police. But risks went unrecognized…” The Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 19, 2018).

The recordings of Lauren’s and others’ requests for help to the U. police and Salt Lake City police are heartbreaking. (“...University of Utah releases audio of calls to campus police…” Tribune, Jan. 17, “Audio of Lauren McCluskey’s calls for help…” Tribune, Dec. 21, 2018).

Lauren was cogent, clear, and convincing, and obviously and rightly worried. As a straightforward matter of basic human decency — never mind professional responsibility — it is unconscionable that her repeated requests were in essence dismissed and that responses were unduly delayed, sometimes under the premise that Lauren’s safety was someone else’s job. In situations involving clear and imminent danger and illegal acts and threats, it’s everyone’s job. And it’s a job for now — not later.

I’m sorry that the U. subsequently mischaracterized the true circumstances leading to Lauren’s death, deepening your sorrows. Repeatedly, the U.’s mishandlings have been more worthy of rebuke than of multiple, self-serving awards (“…Lauren McCluskey’s name on the program for awards…” Tribune, June 5).

To its credit, the U. commissioned an external report, which ultimately noted some positives. But University President Ruth Watkins’ claim that “the report does not offer any reason to believe that this tragedy could have been prevented” is stunningly counterfactual, inappropriate and inexcusable (“It’s time for the University of Utah to accept its failures…” Tribune, July 3).

Watkins’ disingenuous whitewashing undermines the very improvements that the report proposes, and seriously damages her credibility and the U.’s. Why implement ineffectual changes that would make no difference? Such doublespeak is a poor way to regain trust. Similarly, the stalking, harassment, and ultimate slaying of Lauren were by no means random or unpredictable, as Snyder seemingly implied on “Dateline” (“…The U. made itself look worse…” Tribune, June 14).

I’m sorry that the U. leaders who have the ultimately responsibility, Watkins and Police Chief Dale Brophy, were unwilling to address “Dateline” themselves, and instead substituted a soon-to-be-retired subordinate as an expendable sacrificial lamb. I’m sorry that Watkins and some other U. officials reportedly refused to answer your later emails (“…The University of Utah never apologized—and has stopped talking to them…” Tribune, Jan. 25).

Perhaps stonewalling is a good corporate legal strategy. But it’s a horrible humanitarian one — especially for a U. president publicly promoted as a student-centered, people-first leader (”For Ruth Watkins … the job centers on students…” Tribune, Jan. 28, 2018).

I’m sorry that the U. has too often focused more on public relations and image management than on the unembellished truth (“The University of Utah spent nearly $60,000 for public relations…” Tribune, June 27). Trying to look good rather than do good, the U. has failed at both — much as it failed your daughter.

That the U.’s positions and framings of the case were often scripted in advance only exacerbates the problem. These were not spontaneous, ad-libbed mistakes.

It nearly defies belief that anyone could not be, or should not be, sorry for all that, and more.

The views expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the U.’s.

I’m sorry that the U’s misdirected positions make that difference hold true here in fact as well as in principle.

| Courtesy Photo Gregory Clark

Gregory A. Clark is a member of the University of Utah faculty.