The University of Idaho’s Ethics and Compliance Hotline received an anonymous call on Dec. 7, 2010. It was a student claiming Ernesto A. Bustamante, the assistant psychology professor who murdered Katy M. Benoit last August, was having sexual relationships with students. One of these relationships had become abusive and coercive. The student who called was not Benoit.
In a press conference Wednesday, UI President M. Duane Nellis announced the release of a series of documents related to the employment history of Bustamante.
UI Communications Director Tania Thompson said the initial set of documents will be sent overnight to news agencies that have requested the documents. There are more than 4,200 files, or about half-a-gigabyte of data. The records include evaluations by his students, documentation on his resignation and additional details about the timeline.
“I repeat today with a profound sense of sadness our entire University of Idaho community, our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends continues to mourn the loss of one of our own,” Nellis said. “Since Katy’s death, everyone at the university has grappled with this tragedy. We’re not over it. We will never be over it.”
Nellis also discussed plans to reevaluate the university’s policy on consensual sexual relationships between faculty and students. He said the Faculty Senate will begin work immediately on the project.
“I expect quick action, and subsequent immediate action,” Nellis said.
According to the timeline, Bustamante started his employment with UI on Aug. 12, 2007. During that semester, Bustamante told Psychology Department Chair Ken Locke that he was being treated for bipolar disorder. Also during that semester, three or four female students told Locke of Bustamante’s “flirtatious behavior and favoritism” toward them. At that time, the professor disregarded the complaints.
The timeline provides details about several of Bustamante’s classes, including notes about his student evaluations. According to a memo from the Psychology Department's Third-Year Review Committee filed on Dec. 1, 2009, a class that traditionally “received the lowest student evaluations within the department” received improved ratings under Bustamante.
According to a report filed on March 5, 2010, by Katherine Aiken, the dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS), Bustamante was “well positioned to receive tenure and promotion.”
Benoit enrolled in one of Bustamante’s psychology classes in August 2010.
That December, six days after the anonymous call to the Ethics and Compliance Hotline, Bustamante was warned by Aiken and CLASS Associate Director Richard Reardon that the UI had no tolerence for sexual harassment. Bustamante denied the claims against him.
On May 1, 2011, Bustamante emailed Locke to tell him he was experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms due to a change in his primary medication.
Benoit submitted the initial draft of her complaint against Bustamante June 12. The complaint was submitted to The Daily Evergreen by Benoit’s friend Sarah Sutter, a UI music graduate student, in September. According to the complaint, the charges Benoit made against Bustamante include sexual harassment from fall 2010 to last May, and three instances during which Bustamante held a loaded gun to Benoit's head, including one time at the end of January 2011, the week after Spring Break and the second week of May 2011.
On Aug. 5, Bustamante delivered a signed letter of separation. At the press conference, Nellis said this was the fastest way to handle the situation.
Later that month, Benoit was murdered by Bustamante outside her Moscow home. He committed suicide early the following day.
“Going forward we’ll be stronger and wiser, and we’ll never forget our responsibility to Katy, her family and her friends,” Nellis said at the press conference.
The Daily Evergreen will continue to report on the content of the documents as they are released.