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Ignorance, Tragedy, Or Cover-Up? Rape And Murder At Eastern Michigan University

June 19, 2007

Today I feel compelled to reflect on a horrible situation at Eastern Michigan University.

The Chicago Tribune reported this morning that EMU officials apparently attempted to cover up the brutal rape and murder of one of its students. Written by P.J. Huffstutter, below are some excerpts from the piece:

– “As most students at Eastern Michigan University were heading home for the holidays in December, the school put out a news release announcing that Laura Dickinson had passed away unexpectedly in her dorm room. There was no foul play, the school said. Staff members assured students that there was no reason to worry about their safety.”
– “Neither students nor her parents knew that investigators had found a grisly scene in Room 518 of Hill Hall. Dickinson’s body was lying on the carpeted floor. She was naked from the waist down. A pillow covered her head, and traces of semen were found on her leg.”
– “For 10 weeks, neither her family nor fellow students knew that state and campus police were investigating several suspects. . . . On Feb. 23 . . . the university acknowledge[d] the truth. Dickinson, 22, had been raped and killed in her dorm room. Her killer took her keys and locked the door when he left.”
– “The school’s secretiveness has left students and residents of this southwest Detroit suburb shaken and outraged. The school ‘lied to us,’ said Dickinson’s father, Bob Dickinson. ‘They let us bury her thinking that a healthy 22-year-old girl died by some freak accident.'”
– “School officials will not say why they remained silent. But parents and the community believe administrators endangered students in an effort to protect the university’s image.”
– “In a 568-page report released earlier this month, investigators with the Detroit law firm of Butzel Long detail how school officials violated a federal law that requires colleges and universities to disclose information about campus crimes and warn students of threats to their safety. The report, as well as court documents, show that Eastern Michigan campus police either suspected or believed all along that it was a homicide case.”
– “University President John Fallon said he was misled by staff and was unaware that Dickinson’s death was a homicide. Fallon repeatedly told the public and local news media that university officials did not suspect a crime.”
– “James Vick, vice president of student affairs who oversees the school’s housing and campus police departments, told the Dickinson family that no foul play was suspected. He also directed school staff to shred a police report about the investigation as part of a ‘damage-control mode,’ according to the report.”
– “Fallon did not return calls for comment. Vick, who denies the allegations, has become a designated scapegoat, lawyer Thomas Manchester wrote in a June 13 letter to the board of regents. The letter says that Vick, eager to clear his name, has taken a polygraph test, which shows he is telling the truth.”

Note: Since the suspect they arrested is still just a suspect, I’ve refrained from including her/his name here.

There’s more in the article. Do check it out.

———————————-

So are we to believe that VP James “The Shredder” Vick and President John “I don’t know” Fallon are completely innocent? What of the report? What of the shredding? Not to minimize his culpability, but I can see how Vick might have felt responsible and spun the story a certain way for EMU’s president. That makes his potential guilt plausible to me. But what of Fallon? Isn’t there a better approach than denial?

Is the fact that some higher education officials today are more worried about image than truth, not to mention the safety of their students, a symptom of the corporatization of higher education? Were things better in the past? Is the possibility of this situation more prevalent today than say in the 1930s? I wonder if there’s a good history out there about crime on campus? – TL

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