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Likins describes role in investigation

Sarah Mervosh | Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When the University completes its investigation into the death of junior Declan Sullivan, it will turn over its findings to Peter Likins, who will conduct an independent review.

Likins, 74, is the former president of Lehigh University and the University of Arizona and has a doctorate in engineering mechanics.

He told The Observer his experience with tragedy while serving as a university president and his background in engineering prepared him for his role in the investigation.

“I think my background as an engineer helps me look at the facts in situations like this,” he said. “[Engineers] want to know exactly what happened … That’s the way we’re disciplined.”

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

Likins also dealt with tragedies during his 24 years as a university president.

In 1986, Likins was the president of Lehigh when a female student, Jeanne Clery, was murdered in her dorm room. A federal law mandating that every university report the occurrences of crime on and near its campus was later named after Clery.

He was also president of the University of Arizona when a student shot three professors to death in a classroom in 2002.

“Those are two very dramatic examples, kind of book ends, 1986 and 2002, and a lot in between,” he said. “Because I have that kind of trauma in my own presidential experience, that helps me understand all the dimensions of what is going on now at Notre Dame.”

Likins is not being paid to review the University’s findings.

“[University President Fr. John Jenkins] called me and asked if I would help him, and as a fellow president I’m pleased to do that as best I can,” he said.

Likins clarified that he does not have a team to assist him and is not conducting the investigation. Rather, he will assess the internal investigation conducted by the University.

“I’m not going to conduct a parallel review,” he said. “If I have to say to them, ‘Gee, you ought to calculate blank, blank, blank,’ they will calculate [it].”

While waiting for the University to complete its investigation, Likins remains in Tucson, Ariz., and stays updated through weekly communication with Jenkins.

“I speak to the president roughly once a week just to serve in whatever role he seeks from me,” Likins said.

That role sometimes includes answering questions, but Likins said he mainly serves as a sounding board for Jenkins.

“That is one of the things that a president needs in a crisis such as this, is someone who understands the depth of his pain,” he said. “Someone he can talk to — not in a matter of reviewing the facts, that’s not the role that I play in my conversations with the president — but just hearing his account of what this experience has meant to him and to Notre Dame.”

Likins said it is not clear if he will review the University’s findings before or after they are released to the public.

“That has not been explicit in our conversations, but what is clear is they are trying to keep me informed and they have given me anything I asked for,” he said, but added, “None of it is to draw judgment. It’s too soon for that.”

Although the University has not explicitly asked him to come to campus, Likins said he expects to come to South Bend at some point to respond to questions regarding his review of the investigation.

“If [Jenkins] is going to put forth in an open and transparent way a review of this tragedy, part of that seems to me is to put me in the arena also so people can ask me questions,” he said.

Likins said he had no previous affiliation with Notre Dame and has never visited the University.

University spokesman Dennis Brown said University officials suggested several individuals as candidates to conduct an outside review of the investigation, including Likins.

“As a highly regarded university administrator, engineer and leader in college sports, he has ideal credentials for this assignment,” Brown said. “We very much appreciate him accepting our request to take it on.”

Likins was a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics from 2004 until his retirement and served the NCAA as a member of the Presidents’ Commission. He later served as a member of the Executive Committee and chaired a presidential task force on the future of intercollegiate athletics, according to a press release.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Stanford University and his master’s degree in civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also received a doctorate in engineering mechanics from Stanford.