Special Report: Behind the UNL Bed Bug Controversy

By: Dave Roberts Email
By: Dave Roberts Email

It's been a year since UNL waged war with a bed bug infestation that affected dorms all over campus. It took the University weeks before realizing the magnitude of the problem they faced.

Now a year later UNL looks back at what happened, the communication break down and how things changed to prevent a similar outbreak.

When asked about regrets UNL Housing Director Sue Gildersleeve says she has none.

"I am very happy with what we have in place right now," said Gildersleeve. "I think we've got a very reasonable protocol and it's serving the students well....Regrets would be old business and I think that we handled everything, it was a difficult situation. I think we worked well with the students to give them as much information and deal with it frankly in a much more proactive fashion."

With her focus on the future, Gildersleeve says the University's bed bug policy is working.

"We have had a couple of incidents in our family housing units. We had two happen last fall. We've taken care of those with heat treatment with no recurrence. Nothing in our residence halls."

But this time last year, students felt at risk.

In response to student and parent concerns, 10/11 News requested hundreds of emails sent among University administrators about the bed bug infestation.

What we found, shows a communication breakdown. It also showed UNL was filtering the information being shared with parents and the media. In emails Gildersleeve reminded RAs that UNL would not allow anyone to talk to the media.

In this email from January 19th, UNL News Director Kelly Bartling insults our effort to share the story with parents and all Nebraskans. "TV, well whatever. I can't stand TV news. Nobody is watching them."
She goes on to write, "Far as I'm concerned, the story is over."

Unfortunately for everyone involved, it was far from over. The infestation continued well into February.

Angry emails from parents and University replies continued through February, as well as the bed bug battle in the dorms.

One RA who lived in a room with bedbugs became concerned when the University didn't tell other students about the problem. She wrote "the major repairs note isn't working." When she asked what to do a housing employee replied, "tell them we're treating the room just to be cautious."

Now, a year later, Gildersleeve is confident with the school's bed bug policy.

UNL will now post signs on dorm floors where inspectors find bedbugs. All infected areas will immediately get heat treated. The school will also focus on communication with students.

"We think that the best course of action is to notify the people closely affected. We count on our students to let parents know if they are affected. But most schools, there is really not a reason to do a large alert," says Gildersleeve.

With only two cases reported on campus this school year, and zero bed bugs showing up in dorms, Gildersleeve stands by UNL's new bedbug protocol.

"I am very satisfied," said Gildersleeve. "We did everything that we could at the time and we've had a good plan moving forward and so far it seems to be working very well."


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