I want to express my gratitude to the Latah County District Court for its quick response to the University of Idaho’s request to clarify the bounds of law regarding privacy protection for a deceased public official. I also would like to thank our media partners for agreeing to join the university in pursuing this important question.
I initiated this effort with the hope of gaining the legal endorsement required to provide a full public accounting of the circumstances leading up to the tragic events of August 22. Our commitment to full disclosure and transparency remains consistent and steadfast.
When the news media approached us initially to release personnel and other records of Ernesto Bustamante and the student records of Katy Benoit, we examined the applicable law carefully. We quickly consulted with the U.S. Department of Education in order to determine our ability to release Katy’s records. We received verification from the department only a few days after Katy’s death and were quickly able to release a timeline based on those records. We also began immediately to petition the court for a ruling on Ernesto Bustamante’s records.
Our invitation to media partners—including the Associated Press, Lewiston Morning Tribune, the Idaho Statesmen, the Spokesman Review Broadcast, KXLY-TV and others—to join us in this petition, underscored the shared interest we had in gaining release of these documents. The speed of this legal action was astounding, with only 33 days from request to decision. I am very grateful for the court for its responsive and decisive action.
Judge John Stegner has cleared the way for us to release nearly all official university documents related to Ernesto Bustamante. I have directed university legal counsel, our information technology group, and other departments to expedite their ongoing efforts to compile and review these estimated 70,000 emails and other records, which span the time of Bustamante’s job application in 2007 to the day of the tragedy—that’s nearly four years of daily e-mail and other records. Concurrently, the university is complying with the search warrant from the Moscow Police Department for these same records.
My goal for the university is to release these documents within two weeks.
Concurrently, the independent review panel I appointed last month continues its review of the university’s safety and security policies and procedures. I trust former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Linda Copple-Trout and her panel of experts to provide insights that will benefit not only the University of Idaho but also our partner institutions here in Idaho and public higher education as a whole. I’ve asked the panel to make recommendations to ensure that our procedures and policies set the standard for a 21st century public university.
The University of Idaho is a very special place. Our students and many of our 90,000 alumni call Moscow and the Palouse their home. The extraordinary education and student experience our students receive here in Moscow and in our 70 locations statewide is one of our state’s greatest public assets.
I take very seriously our commitment to protect and safeguard both that extraordinary experience and the public trust we share with Idaho as its flagship, land-grant university.
M. Duane Nellis is president of the University of Idaho.