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UI reworking its ban on faculty and student relationships

The University of Idaho is planning a clearer ban on faculty and student relationships following the slaying of a 22-year-old graduate student by her former professor who then killed himself.

University President M. Duane Nellis announced the changes today in Moscow, Idaho, as the university released employment and other records of the professor, Ernesto Bustamante. Judge John Stegner ordered disclosure of the public records, which were sought by several news organizations, including The Spokesman-Review. The records were expected to be delivered Thursday.

Police say Bustamante killed his former student, Katy Benoit at her Moscow home on Aug. 22 after their relationship ended, and then killed himself at a nearby hotel.

“Our entire University of Idaho community – students, faculty, staff alumni and friends – continues to mourn the loss of one of our own,” Nellis said of Benoit. “We must learn from this tragedy and do all we can to prevent it from happening again.”

To that end, Nellis announced that its policy regarding relationships between faculty and students is currently under review by the Faculty Senate.

Apparently, there is some conflicting language in existing policy about whether such relationships are explicitly prohibited. A draft of a new policy would correct that.

The president also said he has ordered mandatory sensitivity training for supervisors, faculty and staff members.

Nellis also said that the university knew in the fall of 2007 that Bustamante was being treated for bipolar disorder.

After Benoit complained to the university that Bustamante had threatened her, Nellis said, Bustamante was allowed to resign three days before the deaths in the interest of “expediting the separation” between the professor and the university.

He could not say whether any member of the university had been contacted by a prospective employer of Bustamante.

The university previously said Bustamante was allowed to resign effective Aug. 19, and Moscow police said they found records indicating that the professor had been hired in New Jersey.

On Wednesday, Nellis said he wasn’t sure the university had knowledge about his employment elsewhere.

Nellis also repeated that the university contacted Moscow police about Benoit’s complaint that she had been threatened by Bustamante on three occasions, but that she asked the university not to disclose the violent nature of those threats. Bustamante reportedly held a gun to her head.

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