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University of Arizona police chief, provost to depart following fatal shooting on campus

By Lauren Gilger
Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, May 2, 2023 - 8:33am
Updated: Wednesday, May 3, 2023 - 3:27pm

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old main
Library of Congress
Old Main, the signature building on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, Arizona.

The University of Arizona's first female police chief as well as a provost are stepping away from their roles.

Various Tucson media outlets reported that UA President Robert Robbins announced Monday in a memo that Chief Paula Balafas was departing effective immediately. Senior Vice President and Provost Liesl Folks will step down at the end of the school year, Robbins said in the memo.

Their departures come at a time when there continues to be criticism of campus safety issues arose following a professor’s shooting death.

Balafas has been chief since February 2022. Chris Olson, a commander in the nearby Oro Valley Police Department, will take over in the interim.

Robbins said Folks will stay on as a faculty member in electrical and computer engineering. She will also oversee a new Center for Semiconducting Manufacturing.

Administrators came under heavy scrutiny in the wake of the October shooting death of Thomas Meixner, a hydrology professor who was gunned down by an expelled student.

Faculty members said not enough was done after former student Murad Dervish kept sending threatening messages to Meixner and others.

The UA Faculty Senate gave a vote of “no confidence” in Robbins during a meeting a month ago. They also singled out Balafas and Folks.

Robbins and Balafas initially were dismissive of a faculty-led report on how the threatening communications were handled. They urged the community to wait for a third-party investigator contracted by the school to complete an investigation, which found there were gaps in communication and security.

Robbins later apologized for dismissing the faculty's review.

Dervish is set to go on trial in September for first-degree murder and other charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

For more on the departures and the continuing safety concerns, The Show spoke with Kathryn Palmer, higher education reporter for the Arizona Daily Star.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story and headline have been updated to correct that the University of Arizona police chief and the provost were not fired, but chose to step down from their positions.

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