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University Of Utah Reaffirms Commitment To Campus Safety Amid Student Criticism

Photo of a large "U" sign on the University of Utah campus.
Brian Albers
The University of Utah's attorney filed a motion on Friday to dismiss the $56 million lawsuit brought in June by the family of slain student-athlete Lauren McCluskey.

The University of Utah is pushing back against criticism that its campus police isn’t committed to protecting students from off-campus perpetrators as it continues a legal battle against the family of slain student-athlete Lauren McCluskey. 

The University of Utah’s attorney filed a motion on Friday to dismiss the $56 million lawsuit brought in June by the McCluskey family. Attorneys argued in the motion that university staff members are entitled to qualified immunity because “there is no clearly established constitutional requirement that a university protect its students from sexual harassment perpetrated by visitors to campus who are not under university control.”

That language fueled the university’s student government, the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU), to draft a joint resolution in opposition to the motion.

“The Associated Students of the University of Utah are opposed to statements made by the University of Utah that have been widely interpreted as victim-blaming as part of this lawsuit,” the resolution reads. 

The McCluskey family and its lawyers have also spoken out against the motion to dismiss. 

“The decision makers at the University are saying that the University bears no responsibility for the murder of Lauren McCluskey,” they said Monday in a statement. “This simply is not true.”

But the future of the student’s resolution is unclear after ASUU received a letter from the university’s general counsel Phyllis Vetter

In the letter that was also circulated to media, Vetter said the motion to dismiss simply reflects current federal law which prohibits monetary judgments against the university and its officers based on the circumstances in this case.

Devon Cantwell, the student senator for the College of Social and Behavioral Science who wrote the resolution, said students were outraged when the news of the motion to dismiss came out. But after receiving Vetter’s letter, Cantwell said some student senators feel they should hold back on the resolution to better review the motion and facts in the case. She’s not one of them, however. 

“After reading the motion several times and especially after hearing hundreds of students’ stories in the last few days the university, I believe, does not handle students’ report of harassment, of abuse, of sexual assault,” she said. “I don’t think that they handle it appropriately.” 

ASUU’s Assembly voted on its version of the joint resolution on Tuesday night. Its Senate may hold a vote on the resolution tonight.

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