University of Utah President Watkins tenure plagued with ups and downs, including handling of McCluskey case

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — University of Utah’s 16th president and 1st woman president, Ruth Watkins, is leaving her position at the university after a short career filled with ups, downs , and the murder of Utah track star Lauren McCluskey.

Watkins faced criticism during the Lauren McClusky murder case when she stated she hadn’t found anything in an initial review of the case to indicate McCluskey’s death could have been prevented.

But roughly a year later she told the family of Lauren, “we failed Lauren and her family.”

Since then, Watkins created the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention

“People’s voices can be heard and it’s a place where they are recognized and they can report these and be taken seriously,” said chair of the board of trustees Christian Gardner.

Gardner said Watkins will be missed, but it is now time to fill the role.

“I think colleagues will remember her fondly,” said Gardner. “I think one thing you can say about President Watkins is she has a very warm and friendly personality. She has a great leadership style. She cares about people.”

In Dec. 2019 Watkins introduced the university’s first chief safety officer.

“I feel like things have improved a little bit at least when it comes to campus security,” said Carson Balser. “Things can always be better. Always.”

The university released its most recent crime statistics including Violence Against Women Act data.

It shows that from 2017-2019, the amount of reported domestic violence cases went down but reports of stalking went up in that three-year period.

Around the country, Only 1 in 5 female students in college age 18-24 report a sexual violence crime to law enforcement.

Gardner said Watkins has made campus safety a priority and had a hand in getting Utah into the prestigious Association of American Universities

Watkins will officially step down from her position in April 2021.

She is starting a job with Strada Impact, a higher-ed institution that strives to create a better pathway from education to employment.

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