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Jenkins: ND responsible for death

Laura McCrystal | Sunday, November 7, 2010

University President Fr. John Jenkins took responsibility for the death of junior Declan Sullivan in an open letter to the Notre Dame community Friday.

“We are conducting an investigation and we must be careful not to pre-judge its results, but I will say this: Declan Sullivan was entrusted to our care, and we failed to keep him safe,” Jenkins said in the letter. “We at Notre Dame — and ultimately I, as President — are responsible. Words cannot express our sorrow to the Sullivan family and to all involved.”

Sullivan, a videographer for the football team, died on Oct. 27 after the hydraulic scissor lift from which he was filming football practice fell.

Students, faculty and staff received the letter, which was also issued as a press release, in an e-mail Friday afternoon.

In the letter, Jenkins announced the appointment of Peter Likins, former University of Arizona president, to lead an external review of Notre Dame’s investigation into Sullivan’s death.

Likins is also former president of Lehigh University, according to a University press release issued Friday about the external review. In addition to other roles in higher education, he has served as provost at Columbia University, where he was a professor and dean at the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“In selecting someone to review our investigation, I sought an individual experienced in higher education, with an impeccable reputation for integrity, intellect and independence,” Jenkins said. “In Dr. Likins, we are fortunate to have just such a man.”

The University’s internal investigation is already underway and involves examining the accident from a variety of perspectives, the letter stated.

“I am committed to determining why this accident happened and to ensuring the safety of our students,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins did not provide a timeline for releasing results of the investigation and review, but said the University would make the results public when they became available.

“Investigations and external reviews such as this take time, but I assure you that, when complete, we will issue a public report on the outcome, including information on the events of the afternoon of Oct. 27, any institutional ramifications and recommendations for safety policies in the future,” Jenkins said.

The letter also expressed support for the Sullivan family. Jenkins said “words cannot express” the amount of sorrow the University feels for Sullivan’s family members.

“Over this past week, I have had the great privilege of meeting with and trying to provide some measure of support to Declan’s parents, sister, brother and other members of his family,” Jenkins said. “Yet the Sullivan family, through their incredible grace and courage, has given us support and an example of how to respond. They ministered to us as we tried to minister to them.”

In reaction to what Jenkins called “unfounded and unfair commentary and speculation,” he offered support for head football coach Brian Kelly.

“Coach Kelly was hired not only because of his football expertise, but because we believed his character and values accord with the highest standards of Notre Dame,” Jenkins said. “All we have seen since he came to Notre Dame, and everything we have learned in our investigation to date, have confirmed that belief. For those reasons I am confident that Coach Kelly has a bright future leading our football program.”

Last, the letter thanked Notre Dame students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents for concern and prayers following Sullivan’s death.

“At the darkest moments, the love, and care, and faith of the Notre Dame family shines most brightly,” he said.