Reese: U Students Need and Deserve a Transparent Administration


Ivana Martinez

UnSafe U protesters gather at the public safety building on the University of Utah Campus in Salt Lake City to protest the actions of officers involved in the Lauren McCluskey case on August 6, 2020. (The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Isaac Reese, Opinion Writer


The University of Utah Campus Police has been plunged into yet another scandal as Chief of Police, Rodney Chatman, has been placed on administrative leave. This is another addition to the string of scandals and mismanagement at UUPD following the 2018 death of Lauren McCluskey. U students remember the on-campus murder of fellow student McCluskey and the stories that followed, like the discovery that multiple campus officers had been fired by their previous police departments for inappropriate conduct and, more recently, Officer Miguel Deras sharing intimate photos of McCluskey with coworkers. Chatman and his legal advisers claim that he is being forced out of the department for pushing for greater transparency in the department, including regarding the mishandling of McCluskey’s case by Deras and other officers. But U students only learned about Chatman’s forced leave after student organization UnsafeU received an anonymous tip. The university’s lack of communication about Chatman’s leave shows that we need more transparency not only from UUPD but also from the school administration.

Chatman was placed on leave on Dec. 10 over “speculation claiming [he] lacked proper certification by the Peace Officer Standards and Training board.” UnsafeU was notified of Chatman’s leave on Dec. 16, but the U made no statement about the change until Dec. 18. The student body’s representatives in ASUU were not told about this choice — instead, students found out about it through an anonymous tip. These facts signal that the U’s administration had no intention of informing students about the situation.

This lack of transparency is the driving wedge between school administration and students. How can university leaders expect to repair their relationship with us if they continue to hide what is happening on our campus? Even under the programs and policies that the U has established in the wake of McCluskey’s death, transparency from the administration is rare.

In September 2020, outgoing President Ruth Watkins established an Independent Review Committee to oversee campus police and review any disputes and allegations. On the surface, this sounds like a smart way to fix a police department that continually fails the community over which it holds jurisdiction — but it is another broken promise from school leaders. The committee comprises faculty members, university staff and students who are all appointed by Watkins. Not one member is appointed by an elected student body representative — even the Student Body President has no say in who sits on this committee. One of the students who sit on the committee also serves as an intern in Watkins’ office. This is appalling. How is that not a conflict of interest? Watkins holds power over these committee members as interns in her office, and we can’t expect any student, regardless of their integrity, ethics or merit, to truly give independent oversight while also working directly for an administration that so often keeps students in the dark.

The independent review committee is another illusion used by university leadership to make it look like action has been taken to protect and inform U students. For this committee to be truly independent, Watkins and her administration need to be fully removed from it, not in control. Student representatives on this committee should either be appointed by the Student Body President and confirmed by the ASUU legislative branch or be directly elected by the student body during the annual ASUU elections. Ensuring students have a legitimate voice on the committee would help foster more transparency between the student body and the administration.

The opaque and delayed messaging on Chatman’s administrative leave shows that trust and transparency between the University of Utah and its student body is still a long way off. University leaders will have to give up power to ensure transparency and give U students a voice on issues that affect us so directly and seriously. Watkins and her administration can start by instituting democratic reforms on the campus police’s “independent” review committee.


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This article was updated to reflect that only one of the students on the committee interns in Ruth Watkins’ office, not two.