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Dear Students and Colleagues,
Almost five months ago, the University of Arizona community suffered a profound loss with the tragic death of Professor Thomas Meixner, Chair of our Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences. Our thoughts continue to be with Dr. Meixner’s wife, Kathleen, their children, Sean and Brendan, his colleagues both here in Arizona and around the world, and his students. Dr. Meixner was a world-class expert in hydrology and a consummate educator who was instrumental in developing the next generation of water researchers dedicated to making our world’s most precious resource safer for all. The loss of Dr. Meixner in the university and global communities is immense.
Very soon after his passing, I committed to a full, independent review of the facts and circumstances leading up to October 5th. As I shared with all of you in October: “The independent review will help inform us about what additional or different steps can be taken to better protect our faculty, staff, students, and visitors and how we can improve our response, policies, and procedures involving campus safety and security in the future. Where we can do better, we will, and we will continue to share changes and new initiatives as they are implemented.”
To fulfill our commitment, the University retained PAX Group, LLC, national experts in campus security, to examine the events leading up to Dr. Meixner’s death and to provide us with a comprehensive review of our campus safety and security. Over the past four-and-a-half months, the experts spoke with more than 139 students, faculty, staff, and others, including Dr. Meixner’s family. They reviewed more than 1,200 documents, including emails, text messages, legal filings, emergency response plans, UAlert policies and procedures, and other external reports. They examined our facilities, including classroom buildings. There was such a commitment to a comprehensive review, as well as an overwhelming desire from so many members of our community to share their thoughts with the experts, that their work did take longer than expected.
As you will read in their report (available via the link at the bottom of this page) delivered to me by the PAX Group Friday, there were systemic issues across three main themes: understanding and managing threats, providing a consistent and compassionate response, and the decentralization of communications. For those failures, I accept responsibility on behalf of the University and commit — once again — to all of you and to the Meixner family that we will do all that we can to prevent another tragedy.
The 33 recommendations in the report are welcomed and will serve as a meaningful guide to our actions as we move forward. As I shared with you in January, and as noted in the PAX Group report, the University has already begun the process of expanding safety training to individuals and units; installing fire and safety-compliant locks on classroom doors; expanding keyless access to buildings; including graduate students in our criminal background check process; and automatically registering all students, faculty, and staff to receive UAlerts.
Let me share with you some additional changes that will occur moving forward:
- Effective May 1, Steve Patterson, a 25-year FBI veteran, including service as Assistant Special Agent in Charge here in Tucson, will become the Interim Chief Safety Officer, reporting directly to me. Steve has been consulting with us on campus safety since late October. In this role, Steve will be charged with — and accountable for — implementing the PAX Group’s recommendations and coordinating safety initiatives across the University as we begin a national search for a Chief Safety Officer. Steve will also continue to oversee and empower our Threat Assessment and Management Team, which he began to do in November 2022.
- We are creating a Campus Safety Advisory Commission comprising University and community members to advise Steve Patterson on the implementation of all of the report’s 33 recommendations.
- Our work with the PAX Group will continue, as they help us with a campus-wide master facility safety plan.
I am grateful to the PAX Group for their expert and thorough work, their commitment to independence, their inclusive process, and ultimately, their recommendations, which I trust will create a safer University of Arizona. I am also grateful to everyone who participated in this process, including those who shared thoughts on campus safety and security and the members of the General Faculty Committee on University Safety for All. Our students and our faculty and staff colleagues are the backbone of our institution, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their concern for our University community. Finally, thank you to the Meixner family. Your willingness to engage with our experts during their external review process has been incredibly meaningful and impactful. The profound loss you have experienced is incomprehensible, and we will continue to seek ways to support you in the years ahead.
Many in our community may have feelings, reactions, or questions regarding the report released today. Any member of the University community who would like to submit a comment, concern, or question related to the report can do so via a Qualtrics questionnaire, and we will respond to every inquiry. At 2:30 this afternoon, I will meet with the media. We will stream the press conference at the University's YouTube page. In addition, in the days ahead, along with our Vice President for University Initiatives Celina Ramirez, I will be holding in-person small group meetings with members of the faculty, staff, and students to listen to their voices and to try to answer their questions as we focus on the work ahead of us.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees of safety on any open campus despite an institution’s best efforts. To that end, in partnership with the Arizona Board of Regents and Chair Lyndel Manson, we will be sharing what we have learned through this tragedy with senior leaders at Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University to offer what could be valuable assistance as they continue to pursue their own campus safety initiatives.
Tom Meixner will never be forgotten. The best way to honor his legacy is to make changes, and to deepen our engagement with our work and with one another.
As a community, let us unite together and continue to pray for peace and comfort for Dr. Meixner’s wife, Kathleen, and their children, Sean and Brendan, so they may find strength as they grieve his loss and navigate their sorrow.
Robert C. Robbins, M.D.
The University of Arizona