U of I denied grad admission to accused Colorado theater gunman


University of Iowa officials Thursday declined to provide details of why they denied graduate program admission last year to a man accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 others during a July shooting rampage at a Colorado movie theater.

UI neurology and psychology Professor Daniel Tranel wrote in a Jan. 30, 2011 e-mail to a colleague, regarding the application of James Holmes to the neuroscience graduate program, “Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances.”

No specifics about why Holmes was denied UI admission were included in the documents released by the university Thursday in response to open-records requests from The Gazette and other media outlets, and Holmes’ application and essay do not appear unusual.

UI Spokesman Tom Moore on Thursday would say only that “the committee did not feel that Mr. Holmes would be a good personal fit for our program.”

Holmes, 24, was interviewed in person on the UI campus by the committee, Moore said. The neuroscience graduate program had eight applicants for Fall 2011, with five of them admitted, Moore said.

Two days after Tranel’s email with his impressions on seven graduate program candidates that had visited the UI campus on a recent weekend, UI Professor Mark Blumberg agreed with Tranel’s assessment of Holmes, writing in an e-mail “I agree with Dan. Don’t admit.”

Blumberg, in an e-mail to The Gazette Thursday, said he was out of the country and he had “nothing to say about this case.” Tranel did not return phone and e-mail messages for comment.

Holmes was one of seven applicants to the neuroscience graduate program interviewed on the same weekend in January 2011, according to the UI documents. Of those candidates, Holmes was the only one that Tranel in his assessment said should be declined admission, though he did say he was not sure about two others. The names of the other students were redacted in the UI documents, but they earned comments such as “stellar,” “solid, should offer admission,” and “probably fine; smart and well spoken.” Blumberg in his e-mail offered assessment of Holmes and two other candidates, supporting admission for the other two.

The UI released 12 pages of documents Thursday related to Holmes’ 2010 application to graduate school, including his resume and admission essay. Holmes was denied UI admission in early 2011.

The application details impressive educational attainment, including a 3.9 grade-point average while earning a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience at the University of California at Riverside and graduating as a Dean’s Fellow.

Holmes’ essay discusses his previous work and interest in neuroscience, saying he will bring experience from his past, “specifically my strong moral upbringing.”

“My lifelong goal is to increase the efficiency of how human beings learn and remember,” Holmes concludes.

The names of the references Holmes included with his UI application were blacked-out by UI officials, but one of his references from the University of California at Riverside described Holmes’ general scientific ability as “truly exceptional.”

In his application, Holmes said he considered the UI a leader and innovator in scientific research, where he would have the opportunity to pursue his passions in the science of learning, cognition and memory.

“Rational people act based on incentives for self-fulfillment, including fulfilling needs of self-development and needs of feeling useful and helpful to others,” Holmes wrote. “I have always been fascinated by the complexities of a long lost thought seemingly arising out of nowhere into a stream of awareness. These fascinations likely stemmed from my interest in puzzles and paradoxes as an adolescent and continued through my curiosity in academic research.”

He also wrote of his summer job as a camp counselor with underprivileged children, where Holmes said he encountered kids with ADHD and schizophrenia.

“Those kids were heavily medicated but this did not solve their problems, only create new ones,” he wrote. “The medication changed them from highly energetic creative kids to lax beings who slept through the activities. I wanted to help them but couldn’t. This is where neuroscience research becomes invaluable.”

On his UI application, Holmes listed other graduate schools to which he had applied, including the University of Michigan, the University of Kansas, Texas A&M and the University of Colorado, where he later enrolled as a doctoral student.

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