Regents: No personnel changes needed

(Published by Silver & Gold Record on May 20, 2004)

Most members of the Board of Regents do not feel that any CU officials should be fired as a result of the football controversy, regents told S&GR yesterday, after meeting with the independent investigative commission and accepting its final report. President Betsy Hoffman is expected to announce by the end of next week whether head football coach Gary Barnett will be reinstated. He has been on administrative leave since Feb. 18. She said yesterday in a statement that she will take all of the information she and Chancellor Richard Byyny have received “under careful consideration and lay out a course of action for CU by the end of the month.”

The commission issued its findings this week, concluding that there is “no clear evidence” that CU officials “knowingly sanctioned” the use of sex and alcohol in recruiting football players. But at the same time, the commission’s report criticized how University leaders have handled the string of football-related allegations over the past seven years. The commission recommends that Hoffman evaluate whether Byyny, Athletic Director Dick Tharp and Barnett “are capable of and committed to providing the leadership necessary to effect profound changes in culture, structure and reporting systems at the University.”

In the report, the commission asserts that Byyny and Tharp did not “effectively communicate and develop solutions to identified recruiting problems.” Commissioners cite Byyny’s repeated requests to Tharp for greater control over recruits, Tharp’s “lack of response” to Byyny, and Byyny’s lack of follow-up on those requests. In addition, the report criticizes Barnett for insufficient supervision of recruits and says he “behaved with insensitivity toward issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment and did not follow protocols in these areas.” The report also states that Barnett “continues … to resist some recruiting changes and demonstrates an unproductive defensive attitude.”

Hoffman and the regents did not escape the commission’s scrutiny; the report calls on the regents to “evaluate whether Hoffman can provide the leadership and vision needed to restore the University’s integrity and reputation.” The report says Hoffman “failed to exercise sufficient oversight until pressured by the governor and lawmakers. Regents, too, should examine what they have or have not done to advance the principles of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics since their endorsement of them in 1992.”

While there is evidence that “sex, alcohol and drugs were used as football recruiting tools by some player-hosts and possibly a football recruiting assistant,” the report states, there is “no clear evidence that University officials knowingly sanctioned this or had direct involvement.” But the commissioners add that there is “widespread agreement that sex and alcohol have long been staples of recruiting activities here and nationwide. Here, coaches and administrators knew or should have known this and did not take sufficient corrective action until March 2004.”

Regents, commissioners meet

Yesterday, a little more than three months after the regents appointed the independent panel, board members met with the commissioners to discuss the findings and formally accept the report. The regents met in executive session for one hour prior to the public meeting, to discuss personnel matters involving two unidentified system administration officers and two CU-Boulder exempt professionals. Hoffman was asked to leave the executive session at one point, regents said, but during the public meeting board members made it clear they continue to have the utmost support for and confidence in the president.

During the meeting, commissioners told the regents about the process they followed in their investigation, saying that the report represents not an end, but a beginning — an opportunity for CU to develop a football program that is a national model. The board — except for Regents Cindy Carlisle and Paul Schauer, who were absent — voted unanimously in favor of a resolution accepting the report, discharging and thanking the commission, and forwarding the report to the president for her consideration as she forms her response to the situation.

Regent Chair Pete Steinhauer said the controversy has taken “a tremendous toll” on CU faculty, staff, students and alumni, adding, “Now it’s time to heal, move forward and learn from the past.” Regent Gail Schwartz echoed those comments, saying, “Let’s pull together and not continue to tear down this institution.”

Regent Tom Lucero said, “Everybody has made mistakes in this entire process,” including the regents, Hoffman, Byyny, Tharp and Barnett, but “I have seen those individuals step forward and accept responsibility for the mistakes they have made.” He called on the National Collegiate Athletic Association to accept more responsibility for the situation and make real reforms as well.

Regent Jerry Rutledge recognized the parents of football players in the audience, many of whom attended the commission meetings. “Probably no one’s suffered more than you,” Rutledge said to the parents, inviting them to stand up, to a round of applause. “Enough is enough; let’s go forward,” he said of the multiple investigations into the matter this spring. “If we need a scapegoat, go look in the mirror, because all of us could have done more. Without any doubt we have been leaders here, and in that group I include President Hoffman, Chancellor Byyny, Director Tharp and Coach Barnett. I think they deserve the opportunity to show that they can right the ship.”

But Regent Jim Martin said the “profound change” that is recommended in the report requires CU to alter its culture of “ignoring — which only makes problems worse — denying, and worst of all, being aloof. I want to use a harder word: arrogant.” He said the University needs to replace that with “a culture that creates openness, and trust, and lastly humility. … We have to ask ourselves, ‘Can we get that profound change with the present personnel?’ “

Victim advocates angered

At the conclusion of the meeting, Associate Professor Joanne Belknap of UCB sociology, who has been an outspoken supporter of the alleged sexual assault victims, immediately stood up and asked loudly why the regents were expressing support for the players’ parents when not a word was uttered about the alleged victims during the meeting. Flanked by other victim advocates, Belknap later told the reporters that the meeting was “a pep rally. Was the word rape ever used here today? Nobody thanked the victims or apologized to the victims. What we saw was, `Rah, rah, go team, go.’ Firing Barnett and Tharp would be a good start. Byyny should be fired too. What [the regents] are saying is, `We’re going to let rapes go on here at the University of Colorado.’ “

Hoffman told reporters after the meeting that she “strongly supports the chancellor,” and that she and Byyny will work together on identifying necessary changes. “He is respected by many of the leaders, faculty and students of this university, and I believe he can lead the campus through the significant changes ahead,” she said in a statement released yesterday afternoon.

Martin told reporters, “The way I read this, everyone’s job is safe.” While he said he does not think Hoffman or Barnett should be fired, he said other personnel changes should be made, but he acknowledged that he is “somewhat alone” in that opinion among his fellow regents. Rutledge and Regent Pat Hayes also told S&GR that a majority of the regents feel no personnel changes are needed. Hayes said she is still undecided on whether any individuals should lose their jobs, adding that “life is going to be different in the athletic department. Personnel may not like [the changes] and find them difficult to live by.”

During a panel press conference after the meeting, Commissioner Luis Rovira said, “If the Board of Regents is wishy-washy and covers up, then there will be no change.” When asked if that appears to be the board’s approach, he said, “I heard a lot of wonderful words, but not much substance.”

When pressed about which officials, if any, should lose their jobs over the controversy, commissioners said they had agreed that it is not their place to recommend specific personnel actions. “We have more faith in some than in others; I think that’s clear in the report,” Commissioner Jacqueline St. Joan said. Commission Co-chair Peggy Lamm added that the officials with the most culpability appear to be those who have been in their positions the longest. Commissioner David Powell told S&GR that whether to identify specific personnel actions was one of several points of contention while commissioners were writing the report.

Commissioner Jean Dubofsky told reporters, “I think we owe a great debt to those who were courageous enough to file these charges. I also think [Boulder District Attorney] Mary Keenan was right … to say that sex and alcohol were used in football recruiting.” She added that it will be difficult for CU officials to make meaningful changes in the short term “without undermining their position in the lawsuits,” and several commissioners said they will withhold judgment on the University’s response until after it is known what changes are made in the long term. St. Joan said, “Changes have to come from the top,” and that the regents’ responses should play a role in whether they are re-elected.

Scope of the report

The commission’s 13-week inquiry included testimony from 56 witnesses, review of more than 20,000 pages of documents, private investigator interviews with 85 people, and 81 calls to the panel’s anonymous tip-line, which yielded 26 tips for the private investigator to pursue. According to the report, those 81 calls also produced five tips for the attorney general, who was named a special prosecutor in the case by Gov. Bill Owens, but who declined to file any sexual-assault charges. In addition to addressing cultural influences on the athletic department, the report explores three main areas: how recruiting was conducted, whether sex and alcohol were used as recruiting tools, and what actions were taken by those who knew about the misconduct.

The panel concluded that UCB officials did not adequately respond to a 1997 recruiting incident involving alcohol and a sexual-assault allegation, or to an ensuing February 1998 meeting with representatives from the Boulder district attorney’s office. The report states that Tharp did not enact all of the changes suggested by Byyny in 1998, and that Byyny did not insist he do so. “There is no indication that Byyny actively followed up on his requests to the athletic director,” the report states. “Tharp evaded, resisted and ignored his superior’s wishes and perhaps delegated too much responsibility to [former Associate Athletic Director of Student Services Rich] Cardillo. The chancellor had little control over the athletic department, allowing the director to get away with only minor changes. In the end, the chancellor held the ultimate responsibility for effecting change.”

The report states that Tharp “espoused a philosophy of `plausible deniability’ when faced with accusations of misconduct by student-athletes and employees; isolated himself from his staff and has not given his full attention to his responsibilities; contributed to the athletic department’s isolation from the rest of campus; and failed to provide adequate sexual-assault and sexual-harassment prevention training for employees and student-athletes.”

The report cites several communication failures as well, including that Barnett and Hoffman were not told about the 1997 incident and 1998 meeting until after the December 2001 recruiting weekend that spawned three Title IX lawsuits and ignited the current controversy.

While praising Barnett for his thorough player handbook and disciplinary actions against student-athletes, the commission charges that Barnett “did not follow proper protocols regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment on at least two occasions.” The report notes, for example, that the coach violated the University’s sexual harassment policy by not reporting the verbal harassment of former place-kicker Katie Hnida when he learned of it. “Barnett’s failure to report to the office of sexual harassment demonstrates an inability to differentiate violations of team rules that may be handled internally from misconduct that gives rise to the duty to involve other University authorities,” the report states.

Other recommendations

The commission made several other findings and recommendations in its report:

  • The University should implement the Boulder Faculty Assembly’s recommendations, which include having more faculty participation in recruiting visits, creating an “athletic governing board” and having the athletic director report to the provost instead of the chancellor.
  • The athletic director and head coach should be held responsible for implementing and enforcing the recruiting changes announced by Hoffman and Byyny in March.
  • The NCAA should be encouraged to enact a host of reforms, such as making alcohol consumption by underage student-athletes an NCAA infraction, prohibiting freshmen from playing on varsity athletic squads, and barring teams from postseason competition unless at least 50 percent of the players are graduating or completing their courses for the year. The report also recommends making coaches accountable for off-the-field player behavior and eliminating financial incentives for coaches who win, replacing those incentives with rewards for players’ academic performance.
  • Athletics department personnel, including coaches, should be held accountable for documenting and reporting, in writing, all disciplinary matters involving student-athletes in a timely manner.
  • The campus should launch a review of sexual-assault protocols; establish mandatory training on sexual harassment and alcohol abuse for all administrators, faculty, staff and student-athletes; create a new legal position in the UCB victim assistance office; and continue the anonymous tip-line. The report endorses UCB’s new “two-strikes” policy, calls for more substantive class work on Fridays to curb Thursday-night partying, and urges more aggressive enforcement of underage drinking laws.
  • The percentage of football players accepted through the admissions “window” should be decreased, the department should demonstrate progress each year toward a specific graduation-rate goal for football players, and a minimum admissions index score of 93 should be set for all student-athletes. In response to concerns raised in gender-equity surveys conducted by the department in 2001 and 2003, athletics officials should set goals to achieve gender equity in hiring, pay, promotion and benefits.
  • CU should launch a promotional campaign “to publicize the positive achievements of students, athletes and faculty.”

The report concludes that “it is time for the administration to exert more institutional control over the athletic department.”