UOG reports on student’s drowning
THE University of Guam has released its findings in the internal review of a class hike that involved the drowning death of 19-year-old student Alexander John Miralles.
The investigation concluded that although the instructor, Dr. Michael Bevacqua, informed his class about health and safety precautions prior to and during the field trip, he did not adhere to college procedures that require waiver or variance form submissions prior to any trip outside the classroom.
Miralles was part of a group of 57 individuals who hiked to Anao Point, Yigo on April 21. According to UOG, Bevacqua organized a scheduled hike to Anao Point as part of his History of Guam class curriculum. The group included a mix of UOG students and non-students. The UOG internal review made an effort to contact all the participants, but only 26 individuals came forward to submit witness statements.
A classmate of Miralles relayed to Variety that during such hikes, Bevacqua discusses the history of the location. While those field trips are not mandatory, students can opt to turn in a different assignment.
During a press conference held yesterday, UOG President Dr. Robert Underwood explained the findings of the internal review, noting that Bevacqua had cautioned his students with regard to safety.
“There were instructions given prior to the trip and during the course of the trip relative to health and safety and a number of instructions given by Dr. Bevacqua in the process,” Underwood said.
The field trip to Anao Point encompassed a hike down a trail that ends in a clearing at the top of a limestone cliff about 10 to 15 feet above sea level. A reef flat or “lamasa” extends from the base of the cliff to the ocean. Based on statements given by student witnesses, Miralles climbed down to the reef flat, followed by two or three other students. Although the others returned, Miralles was swept out of the reef flat and struggled for some time before he went missing and drowned.
“At some point in time, A.J. Miralles went out on the lamasa and based on the statements given by the students, two or three students also went out on the lamasa but ... went back up,” Underwood stated. “When Professor Bevacqua heard about this or witnessed it, he immediately took steps to try to reach out to A.J. Miralles. By the time he got down to the bottom, A.J. had either been swept away or voluntarily – it’s not clear – got into the water.”
Dr. Underwood indicated that going down to the lamasa was not part of the trip, adding that despite Bevacqua behaving in a prudent manner and warning the students, some went down on their own volition.
The investigation concluded that Bevaqua did not follow procedures set forth by the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, which requires the submittal of waiver and variance (change of class venue or time) forms.
“These were not adhered to by Professor Bevacqua,” Underwood stated. As a result, disciplinary action was taken against Bevacqua, but UOG could not disclose what those actions were as they are a personnel matter.
Underwood added: “However, based on everything that we have discovered through this process of inquiry, it’s clear that this was a tragic accident and that signing of these waiver forms probably would have nothing to do with what actually happened on that day.”
Bevacqua resumed his teaching duties on May 1 after being placed on one week of administrative leave while the internal review was being conducted. Bevacqua has a one-year contract with UOG. His contract expires at the end of the Spring 2012 semester.
UOG confirmed he is scheduled to teach in the summer; however, it is unclear whether he will be offered a new contract.
“He does not yet have a contract for the 2012-2013 academic year as that decision is made by the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences based on student enrollment in July or August,” stated UOG spokesperson Cathleen Moore-Linn. According to UOG, one-year contracts are typically offered to instructors in July or August prior to the beginning of each academic year based on enrollment in specific courses relating to the instructor’s area of expertise.
Yesterday’s press conference marked the close of the investigation. Dr. Underwood noted the incident does not change any of the procedures at the university, but has resulted in a more heightened concern. He added that field trips or hikes will continue as some courses require them.