ORONO, Maine — Some shocked University of Maine students and a faculty member stopped a classmate from demonstrating how to butcher and skin a live rabbit on Saturday during their course on documentary filmmaking.
“When he whipped out the knife, people started screaming, crying, running out of the room,” said student Chris Michaud. “It was kind of surreal.”
The rabbit’s close call happened during final presentations for the Camden International Film Festival Course in the Arthur Hill Auditorium in Barrows Hall. About 60 students and one professor were present when senior English major Dane Bolding walked to the front of the class after lunch with the rabbit in a box and a plan.
“I feel like documentary films often put a lot in front of us,” Bolding said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “I guess that my intention was to really put something in front of the class.”
Bolding said that he has taught himself how to butcher and skin animals because he wants to know where his food comes from. He also said that people eat meat but don’t want to know the violence behind how animals are slaughtered and how the food is prepared.
“I feel that we try and hide all of our ugliness,” Bolding said.
According to Dean of Students Robert Dana, the matter has been referred to University of Maine Public Safety, the Dean of Student’s Office and the University of Maine Conduct Officer. Bolding was scheduled to meet with an associate dean Tuesday afternoon and likely would face “educational and developmental sanctions” for his actions, Dana said.
Developmental sanctions are designed to help people understand about appropriate times and places to make a point, the dean said.
“I’m sure it would have been very shocking and upsetting,” Dana said of the incident. “It’s unacceptable. It was highly unexpected, and really out of skew for an academic classroom. No matter what his intent was, the outcome was very, very upsetting.”
School officials are reviewing the matter to see if the university’s code of conduct was violated.
“As of now, it does not appear that there will be any criminal charges,” Dana said.
Any university sanctions that Bolding may face will be private, the dean said.
Bolding, who has won a university award for his poetry, said he meant for what happened in the class that day to be educational.
“We can have a liberal institution where we can serve dead meat. Where you can order dead cats and dissect them in the laboratory,” he said. “For me, it was strange to get as harsh of a reaction and to feel so condemned in a liberal institution. I didn’t intend to harm anyone.”
Michaud said he could understand Bolding’s intentions.
“I can’t fault him. I guess his point was pretty valid,” Michaud said. “It’s just — time and place, dude, time and place.”
But Bolding’s actions crossed a line, according to Michael Grillo, an associate professor, who was team-teaching the course along with two other faculty members.
“I’m feeling betrayed by this,” Grillo said Monday. “This has shaken us all, incredibly. I’ve taught for 25 years. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Grillo said Bolding had announced before his presentation that anyone squeamish might want to leave the room.
“And I did, because, honestly, in the documentary film course, we’ve seen some films that are a little bit rough, so I and several other students left,” Grillo said.
Bolding had not informed professors what he was planning for the final presentation in the course, which was structured around the Camden International Film Festival, held this year from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, Grillo said. Also, Bolding had missed the previous class, during which students presented the first draft of their projects.
All the presentations were meant to be inspired by what they had learned and seen at the four-day film festival, and most students made short documentary videos. A couple, including Bolding, told teachers that they were going to share presentations with the class.
So when Bolding put on a pair of rubber gloves and placed a tarp over a table before taking the rabbit out of a box, course instructor Mike Scott of New Media was unprepared.
“He held up a knife, held it to the rabbit’s throat,” Scott said Tuesday. “I basically said no, not in this class.”
While some students ran out of the classroom at that point, others were yelling at Bolding to stop what he was doing, according to witnesses.
“It got so intense that he was like, ‘Fine, I won’t do it,’” Michaud said of Bolding.
Bolding then put down the rabbit and the knife.
Grillo said that after the incident, he pulled Bolding into the hallway and gave him a piece of his mind.
“I told him that this was one of the most reprehensible acts I’ve ever seen,” he said.
One woman in the class, who witnessed the presentation but didn’t want to be identified, said the class was a “complete and horrible mess” after Bolding’s actions and that some women were calling for him to be expelled.
“What did this have to do with documentary films?” she asked. “This wasn’t a class on cadavers.”
Bolding said he had thought of presenting the rabbit butchering as a documentary video, but didn’t have time. He also said he was very hungry, and even starving, during the Saturday class.
“For a couple of weeks, I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t eat,” he said.
Bolding said he had just bought the rabbit from a local farmer and was looking forward to eating it after he killed it and skinned it in class.
But after his presentation was stopped, several women in the class pooled their money together and bought the rabbit from Bolding for what he had paid for it.
“I don’t mind that the animal is still living,” Bolding said. “I took that $10 and got some potatoes and milk. I made a vegetarian soup.”