SMU officials have never fully explained how, in November 2008, McNutt came to be unwelcome on campus. The closest they’ve come is this e-mail message sent by school spokesman Patti LaSalle to the Dallas Morning News in the wake of McNutt’s February arrest:

“In general, we can confirm that we heard reports of alleged questionable behavior that caused concern among some students as they visited an off-campus location for social events. ... SMU took this information into consideration as it contemplated taking action. The criminal trespass warning from SMU police was based on reports of alleged violations of university policy and criminal statutes, such as offering alcohol to minors.”

Whatever happened that led to McNutt’s ban, it was unclear, at best, how serious he should take the situation. Stuart Parker, one of his other attorneys, says that McNutt regularly received personal invitations to events at SMU. “You wanted to know if SMU was sending ‘mixed signals’ by
issuing a trespass warning and subsequently sending, to Bill, at home, direct invitations to ‘Invitation Only’ events at SMU?” Parker asks. “Of course that is a mixed signal. What else could it be? The invitations, in some cases, came from the highest levels of the administration of SMU.”

SMU has declined to comment on the invitations that McNutt regularly received, and likewise McNutt won’t discuss the campus ban and arrest until the criminal matter is resolved. But, in his own way, McNutt has launched a public relations blitz to counter the bad press.

In follow-up stories after McNutt’s arrest, the Dallas Morning News detailed allegations from a few students who felt it was inappropriate that the McNutts hosted dinner parties with a licensed masseuse offering massages. When D Magazine first made contact with McNutt, a dozen supporters called and e-mailed the magazine saying they’d attended the same dinner parties. The statements sound scripted, but no one saw anything untoward, and if any minors were served alcohol, it wasn’t with the McNutts’ consent.

“During the time I worked for the McNutts as an undergrad at SMU, I attended several parties at their home. It was good for me to meet successful professionals,” says Hana Worede, who has since graduated.

Issa Traore, a current student, said much the same. “I have been friends with Bill and Susana McNutt for a couple of years,” she says. “They have, on several occasions, invited me to their welcoming home for volleyball and dinner parties. The McNutts have always shared very good and free advice as far as education and career, and they have introduced me to several successful professionals.”

“I have had lovely dinners at Bill McNutt’s house on many occasions and have been delighted to be treated by a trained professional massage therapist,” says Dr. Lori Anna Dees, an endodontist. “I have felt very comfortable hiring her, a kind and modest Nigerian immigrant, who has come to my house to treat my muscular back pain.”

The story is no longer about McNutt’s trespassing charge. Or, it’s not only about that anymore. For instance: an incident during McNutt’s time as part of an SMU-run program at Oxford University some 30 years ago warranted a March 22 story in the Dallas Morning News, rehashing the decades-old details. The Oxford report reads like the experience of half of all young men in college. Some mutual petting after a few drinks reached a point where the girl wanted it to stop, he acquiesced, and when asked to leave, he did so. She was angry at the time, but they made amends a few years later. At most, the female student simply regretted that anything had happened and didn’t hold it against McNutt later. That account, incidentally, comes from the background investigation conducted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management when McNutt was cleared to work in the Bush White House on the transition team.

McNutt says that he wants the whole incident behind him. He’s still not talking about his arrest or what led to it. But here is what he says, via e-mail, about the incident at Oxford and his other actions that have become a matter of public scrutiny:

“I have sought counseling from a variety of religious and professionals on occasion throughout the years in the hope of becoming a better person, husband, parent, and friend. I view this as a source of strength, not weakness. I continue to do so. As for seeking forgiveness, I’m not sure where to begin. … This apparently started with what the Dallas Morning News reported an anonymous source called an ‘unwanted inappropriate embrace.’ That was 32 years ago and I was 22. Five years after that incident, I did reconcile as a friend with the individual.

“I deeply regret serving margaritas at our small dinner parties and not ascertaining that the college students attending were all of age.

“Over three decades, any ambitious entrepreneur rubs people the wrong way. Apparently I’ve infuriated a few people. I deeply regret that, but I wish they would take up their concerns with me directly so I know what to apologize for, and I will.”

It’s a little unclear where McNutt goes from here. There almost certainly won’t be a trial. McNutt doesn’t have much of a defense, and surely he doesn’t want any more publicity. But the biggest question remains: did Bill McNutt get the message SMU sent him?

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5/21/2010 update of McNutt's legal status