A tragic event rocked this university last week, with the news of the untimely death of David Norton. It brought national news media to our front door and set us before the critical public eye.
Certainly it was an unfortunate, unpredictable event, but many questions are left unanswered for students, the public and Norton’s family – how could this have possibly happened? What went wrong? Could we have done anything to make a difference? University officials and Norton’s family and friends agree that an event that raises so many questions makes a thorough review of our safety and security procedures and protocol absolutely imperative. The nature of this review is equally important for the peace of Norton’s family, this university and concerned members of the community.
Ideally, the review should not be overseen, initiated or drafted by USM officials, but rather, University of Maine System officials or some other higher entity should completely undertake it. It is concerning that any conflict of interest might become an issue in an internal review of this kind. An internal review simply does not make sense, and it may not demonstrate to the community the most candid and forthright effort. It would not be ethical if in our own government system, when a law’s constitutionality was questioned, it was reviewed by the bodies involved in passing the bill. For this, we have judicial review. In a similar fashion, USM needs to hand off this matter to a neutral party.
Transparency and selflessness are of the utmost importance to the university’s reputation, and enrollment and retention are top priorities for USM right now. If in this internal review we fail to critically and earnestly confront this, then the reputation for this school may suffer and, as a result, USM itself may suffer.
We must realize, however, most importantly, that the bottom line is safety. Certainly, a poor handling of this issue may negatively affect enrollment figures, public opinion or the Princeton Review, but we must not feign a thorough review of policies in order to appease our baser motivations. The only way that a thorough review is possible is for USM to pass the baton. The reality is that David Norton could have suffered immensely, and that it is the duty of an institution to assure the safety of its employees and students.