August 27, 2011 in Opinion

UI worsens matters by avoiding talk of killing


This commentary from the Moscow-Pullman Daily News does not necessarily reflect the view of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board.

Let’s be clear: Only one man pulled the trigger that killed Katy Benoit. As far as anyone knows, that man was Ernesto Bustamante, who soon killed himself. We are not forgetting that as we look into the circumstances surrounding those two deaths.

But look we must.

Two relatively young, highly educated people are now dead, violently so. Both had a years-long relationship with our community and the University of Idaho, but that didn’t help them.

It didn’t lead Benoit to effective help in getting away from an apparently abusive relationship. It didn’t lead Bustamante to effective help in dealing with his serious mental health issues.

Even more, it didn’t help this University of Idaho assistant professor avoid a series of “unwise” relationships with female students. At least a couple of them, probably more, were students in his psychology department. Katy Benoit was among them.

Several times in the past few days the UI has stated in writing and through Bruce Pitman, dean of students, that such relationships are prohibited by university policy.

But that’s not true.

One expression of the policy says, “A consensual romantic or sexual relationship between any faculty member and his or her student, while not expressly forbidden, is generally deemed unwise.”

For any faculty member so inclined, “unwise” is not “forbidden” or “prohibited.”

This should be changed.

UI President Duane Nellis has been silent so far about the violent, connected deaths of a student and professor. He’s issued a written statement that the UI has done nothing wrong, that it has followed its policies and procedures – and sent Pitman to deal with the press.

The advice Nellis seems to be getting about public relations is, “Don’t have them.” That’s not leadership.

By refusing to be seen in public, to answer questions about these events, he gives the impression of a man and an institution with a lot to hide. People start spreading innuendo and speculation, no doubt wilder than reality and deviating from the real story.

Even if the university made mistakes or failed to do everything it could for Benoit and Bustamante, admitting that, discussing it and learning from it is likely to create a more satisfactory end to this tragedy than hiding from it.

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