It was a long overdue concession on the part of the university, a necessary reversal of Watkins' previous astounding assertion that there was nothing the school could have done to prevent the murder. A retraction of the indefensible position taken by the state’s lawyers that, because the killer wasn’t a U. student or staff member, the university’s public safety agency had no duty to protect anyone from him.
McCluskey, a 21-year-old track athlete from Washington state, reported to campus officials and to the Salt Lake City Police Department that she was being harassed, threatened and blackmailed by her ex-boyfriend. Friends of hers also took their concerns to university housing officials.
There were plenty of people whose job it was to help students, to help people, in that situation. Nobody did anything to help.
This perfect storm of failure by so many speaks of nothing so much as a reluctance by many in positions of authority to take seriously the fears of a vulnerable young woman, to deny her the right to go about her life and her education without risking her life. That atmosphere violated both the federal Title IX statute that mandates a safe educational environment for female students and simple common decency.
It took unceasing pressure from U. students and faculty, from the media, from members of the Utah Legislature and, most of all, from the grieving parents of the murdered young woman, Matt and Jill McCluskey, to resolve this matter as well as could be expected.
That pressure included a $56 million lawsuit — now settled for $13.5 million — which seemed to be the key to finally getting the university’s attention.
The money will go to a foundation to promote campus safety at the U. and other schools. The university also agreed to build a new indoor training facility for Lauren’s beloved sport and to name both it and the school’s new campus safety program after her.
The primary credit for all these admissions and changes goes to McCluskey’s family, her parents, who devoted themselves to the cause.
It is sobering to consider what might have happened if the victim of this horrific crime hadn’t come from parents who were not only devoted to their daughter but who also happened to be university professors themselves, not only aware of what the university experience should be but also experienced in campus politics and the ways of academia.
If anyone at the university, its lawyers or its P.R. people, thought the McCluskey family was going to give up and walk away, they were wrong.
And the lives of countless young women, at many universities, will be the better for it.