On Feb. 1, University of Arizona faculty members released a report on their colleague Thomas Meixner’s murder, concluding that many at the university should have known that the accused, an expelled graduate student, was dangerous.
“The lack of a central risk management system and the fragmentation of responsibilities related to violence risks resulted in institutional focus on legal risks and the neglect of violence risks,” the faculty report said.
The university immediately criticized the document, with a spokeswoman telling media, “It is not the comprehensive and exhaustive review that the university commissioned its outside safety and security experts, PAX Group LLC, to conduct following the Oct. 5 tragedy. Rather, it represents the work of a subset of faculty that has reached sweeping conclusions based in large part on misleading characterizations and the selective use of facts and quotations.”
The university encouraged “everyone to await the comprehensive PAX Group report.”
The waiting ended March 27: the university released the PAX report, which reflected the same main conclusions the faculty report made.
The PAX report said at least five members of the Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences Department (HAS) “were harassed and targeted by the subject.”
Murad Dervish faces multiple charges, including the first-degree murder of Meixner, who chaired the HAS department. Meixner was shot to death in his workplace.
“While the tragedy that occurred on Oct. 5, 2022, is shocking and disturbing, it was not unforeseeable,” the PAX report said. “Targeted and mass violence happens with increasing regularity in many communities and on many college campuses.”
“The university does not consistently or centrally coordinate training, awareness or reporting of safety and security concerns; nor does it have a clearly published or utilized reporting system for threats and disruptive behavior, including the clear ability to make anonymous reports of concerning or threatening behavior,” the report said.
The report criticized some of the same units the faculty report did, though it did place lesser blame on others. The PAX report includes this:
The university was not running an effective Threat Assessment Management Team (TAMT) in a way that is viewed as best practice among organizations of its size and scope. An ineffective TAMT process led to a series of decisions and actions that presented multiple opportunities for the subject to continue to harass and threaten University of Arizona community members. The absence of a coordinated TAMT leadership team placed an undue burden on administrative functions, such as Dean of Students (DOS), Office of General Counsel (OGC) and HAS department leaders, to make risk management and law enforcement decisions to prevent violent acts.
This led to a decentralized and fractured approach to managing the risk, which limited coordination and communication. Additionally, there were multiple missed opportunities by [the University of Arizona Police Department] to engage, disrupt or arrest the subject prior to the incident and there was a lack of coordination among UAPD and regional law enforcement agencies to gather information that would have presented a more complete picture of the seriousness of the threat and provided more substantial reasons for arrest. TAMT existed as a group with extremely dedicated members who were problem solvers but lacked a consistent, effective and well-managed threat process. TAMT did not have a full-time leader, dedicated support or formalized meetings and reviews.
University president Robert C. Robbins apologized for dismissing the faculty members’ work on their report.
“It was a mistake for us to release that dismissive criticism of their work, and I believe that we can go forward by uniting, as I said, to work together to make the campus a safer place,” Robbins said at the press conference on the PAX report’s release.
Vote of No Confidence
The Faculty Senate responded the same day with a no-confidence vote in Robbins, the campus police chief and a few other top administrators for the university’s “combative, non-constructive response” to the faculty report “and other Faculty Senate attempts to find ways to improve safety and restore broken trust on campus,” for “failing to do due diligence” to protect Meixner and others, and for “intentionally calling a press conference on the release of the PAX report 30 minutes before a special Faculty Senate meeting dedicated to the resignation of the General Faculty Committee on Safety for All.”
That no confidence resolution passed 29 to 13, with seven abstentions.
That General Faculty Committee on Safety for All, which produced the faculty report, had stopped its inquiry, citing the university’s original dismissive response, the university’s “withdrawal of cooperation with the committee” and related fears of retaliation.
“The president did apologize both publicly and privately to the committee, and he ensured me that he was not involved in scheduling the press conference, and I believe him,” said Leila Hudson, chair of the faculty. “But at the time, you know, it seemed like another poke in the eye for the faculty.”
Hudson said, “We’ve been talking to the president extensively” and “we’re cautiously optimistic that the president has heard the message.”
“The PAX report, you know, corroborated the findings of the interim faculty report, as we expected that it would,” she said. “To the extent that it heightens the call for those needed reforms, we find that the two reports worked very well together.”
Hudson said faculty members learned new details from the PAX report’s timeline, “including a very chilling one that the suspect himself visited the University of Arizona Police Department a week before the murder” regarding his car.
The PAX report’s narrative highlights this event:
“There were at least three key moments when UAPD and an effective TAMT management strategy could have intervened with the subject: 1) when the subject was spotted on campus in violation of the Feb. 2, 2022, expulsion; 2) when the subject initially sent threatening emails/texts to HAS faculty; 3) or when the subject entered the UAPD station to run license plate numbers to see what came up on his new vehicle on Sept. 27, 2022. Overall, the university’s culture of moving from incident to incident, without improving the process to create a clear threat management and investigative strategy, led to missed opportunities for mitigation and intervention.”
“He walked right into the University of Arizona Police Department and basically asked to have his own plates run,” Hudson said, calling it a “critical failure” that he wasn’t arrested then.
Also, Hudson said, the PAX report showed “there were more threats and they reached higher up the management ladder than we had previously been aware”—including against the provost.
“You don’t think I deserve a response you stupid overpaid goddamned fucking whore you aint gonna have a fucking job when I get done with you!!!!!” the suspect emailed the provost on June 28, according to the timeline.
The PAX report also says UAPD didn’t run a background check on Dervish, which “would have presented a broader picture of the risk in the email communications and actions of the subject.” It found there was a five- to 15-minute delay before the university system determined the UAlert emergency notification email wasn’t spam.
The PAX report also criticizes the Pima County Constables Office, which “failed to even serve the subject with an order of protection filed by a HAS faculty member.”
William Lake, presiding constable, told Inside Higher Ed it was an injunction against harassment.
“It has to be physically served, so if the person is not there, we can’t just leave it on the door,” Lake said. He said Dervish lived in a guest house, where there was no answer, and someone in the front house said he didn’t live there anymore.
Lake also said the person wanting the injunction is charged for every service attempt.
According to documents Inside Higher Ed received through an open records request, there was a service attempt in August, when the officer wrote, “per male in house #1 … does not reside,” and the person wanting the injunction against harassment was charged $40 for this failure.
And, regarding the university’s TAMT, the PAX report suggests that unnamed university leaders didn’t pay attention to issues with TAMT that were discovered years ago:
“As early as May 23, 2018, TAMT lead members met with select university senior leadership to present the team’s recommendations and highlight the importance of having ‘leadership input to support a sustainable and effective TAMT response.’ In July 2021, TAMT was again preparing to discuss the role of TAMT with senior leadership more than three years after the TAMT 2018 proposal was first presented to leadership. At that time, one TAMT member provided insight from what ‘[was] still relevant from the summary [TAMT] offered a few years back [to select senior leadership members.]’ Another TAMT member noted that senior leadership would need to determine if TAMT was something the university would want to continue and that, ‘We may have a great deal of educating to do before getting to the critical point of their true understanding of the role … It has taken years to get to this moment and none of us seem to know why.’”
The PAX report also contained this:
Threat assessment and management is largely based on the ability to collect and connect the dots—consolidating information and insights for coordinated action. TAMT’s lack of a single coordinator or leader limited its effectiveness to fully assess, coordinate management and implement a strategy (including advocacy) for protective orders, mental health or community interventions, and the arrest(s) of the subject.
The lack of formalization prevented TAMT members from being able to aggregate information that the HAS department was providing for proper assessment of the threat level; this led to each TAMT member hesitating to offer a proactive response to information until what was received actually crossed a certain legal or criminal threshold, when pre-incident indicators may have been more clearly identifiable had the information received been assessed collectively.
And, the report said, “Safety and security training was inconsistent and, again, oftentimes wholly nonexistent across campus … nor do units and departments seem to practice [emergency] plans.”
“The threat that the subject posed was underestimated by those most involved outside of the HAS department,” the report said. “Though the situation was routed to TAMT mid-January 2022, there was no real ownership of this particular threat.”
Phil Andrew, principal and co-founder of PAX Group, said the university didn’t ask for anything to be removed from the report, and nothing was.
“The report is the complete extent of our review and our recommendations,” he said.
“As part of our comprehensive review, we interviewed folks from the Faculty Senate, both the chair and the chair of the faculty safety committee, and we also interviewed first-party sources that many of the folks [in] the Faculty Senate were relying on,” Andrew said. “But our ability to verify and go deeper, our scope, was just much greater.”
The university didn’t comment for this article, beyond sharing a video of the president’s apologetic press conference.