Choppy response to stabbing incident indicative of greater system flaws
College campuses are nothing if not microcosms of the greater social structure of their communities. The economic and racial stratifications are always highlighted when viewed intimately. The power structures become less transparent and more distinct, particularly when an instance of adversity forces them into a corner and demands a reaction. The reaction that follows ultimately defines them and the community as a whole.
This was particularly evident last week in the days following the stabbing of freshman Michael Knorps on the first day of classes.
Hours after learning suspect Kenton Drew Astin was a former employee at the UMC, the CU administration was forced into that corner, forced to assess itself and choose one response out of its few reasonable choices. Their response ultimately came to define them, the university and the greater Boulder community.
Astin, 39, of Boulder, had been employed as a cashier at the UMC from October 2006 to April 2007 as part of a vocational job placement for mentally ill patients overseen by the Chinook Clubhouse. After attempting to stab a man in Longmont in 2001, he plead not guilty by reason of insanity to a charge of first-degree attempted murder.
Astin’s tenure at the UMC was uneventful, and it’s unclear how closely involved he was with the Chinook Clubhouse when he allegedly stabbed Knorps on Aug. 27.
The day following the incident, UMC Director Carlos Garcia told The Campus Press he was never informed of Astin’s 2001 charges.
“We would have liked to know about them,” Garcia said.
Chinook Clubhouse, which has maintained a successful relationship with CU for 17 years, is not required by law to report information about a patient to an employer unless the employer inquires. It appears that in the case of Astin, CU never made an inquiry.
“It’s up to the employer,” said Kitty DeKieffer, spokeswoman for the Chinook Clubhouse. “We don’t want to discriminate against these individuals based on their conditions.”
Not only did the university not check the criminal background of Astin before they hired him, but attempted to shrug the responsibility of securing their students and faculty off onto their vocational partner of 17 years.
Makes you wonder how many other personnel at CU have gone unchecked. Garcia said the UMC does not run criminal checks on food service employees. Well, at least not when they hire them. They wait until an incident like the one last Monday morning to check on who’s working with students and faculty.
In another deplorable response by CU administration, five workers connected with the Chinook Clubhouse were put on paid administrative leave pending criminal background checks following the incident Aug. 27. By singling out these individuals, CU is treating these employees differently than others. Rather than check on an employee when they are hired, the administration has chosen to suspend and check them retroactively, after they have already been employed and working alongside both students and faculty.
To respond in haste and fear is to respond irrationally.
Would this sort of ex post facto reaction fly in the Boulder community? What about at the state and federal levels?
Chinook is indeed responsible for allowing Astin – a man with a known mental illness and criminal record – to be placed in a position where he could work alongside thousands of young men and women. Perhaps Chinook Clubhouse could have used more discretion, or maybe monitored his rehabilitative progress before allowing him to even be considered for a job such as the one he held at the UMC.
But the Chinook Clubhouse is not responsible for securing the safety and well being of the students and faculty at CU. The university is responsible for knowing who they hire. The university is responsible for securing their students and faculty. The university has a responsibility to know what is happening on their campus, to know who is on their campus.
If last week’s violent event tells us anything about our university and the Boulder community, it’s that they are negligent beforehand, irreproachable at the onset and paranoid after the fact.
Contact Campus Press staff writer Timothy McAvoy at firstname.lastname@example.org