Incredibly, things have gotten worse at Rutgers. And this time, someone outside of the athletics department may need to be held accountable.
Only days after The Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger reported allegations of abuse against new athletics director Julie Hermann while she was a volleyball coach at Tennessee in the 1990s, The New York Times has reported on another troubling situation during Hermann's time as a senior athletics administrator at Louisville. In 2008, Mary Banker, an assistant track and field coach at Louisville, went to Hermann to complain of "discriminatory treatment" by the Cardinals' head coach of the men's and women's teams. Less than a month later, Banker was fired.
"Among her concerns," The Times reported, "the male coaches would refer to student-athletes with words that were derogatory toward women. She also said that because she was female she was instructed by the head coach, Ron Mann, to set up party tables and make food arrangements for recruiting lunches."
According to comments made by Banker's lawyer in a court filing, Hermann criticized Banker for going to human resources. "You should not have gone to HR," the lawsuit quotes Hermann as telling Banker. "I don't know how I'm going to restore trust in you amongst staff now," and "I don't know how you're going to work downstairs after this."
A $300,000 verdict in favor of Banker was overturned earlier this year, as a judge ruled she could not prove her firing was because of her complaint. Rutgers was aware of the lawsuit, according to a spokesman interviewed by The Times, and Hermann discussed the situation with both the search committee and university counsel.
This lawsuit, on its own, would not cause an enormous stir in a typical hiring process. Yet this is no typical hiring process. And this New York Times story comes directly in the aftermath of The Star-Ledger's story, which is more damning and troublesome for both Hermann and Rutgers. The new AD, who hasn't even started her job yet, has been involved in two discrimination lawsuits. That's two too many at a school trying to rid itself of the stain of unfair treatment.
Rutgers' athletics department was already embroiled in scandal after abuse by former basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired earlier this year. Athletics director Tim Pernetti stepped down in the aftermath of Rice's ouster.
Rice was replaced by Eddie Jordan, who as Deadspin reported, did not graduate from Rutgers as was claimed on his university biography.
Now the new AD has a track record of alleged abusive behavior as a coach at Tennessee and involvement in a sexual discrimination lawsuit that included her as a central figure.
[Related: Rutgers embarrassment to Big Ten?]
There are two sides to every story, and Hermann surely has strong credentials, but the university needed to be clear of any shadow of discrimination or abuse after the Rice scandal. Instead it has run headlong into a more embarrassing situation.
Rutgers is a fantastic school with a long athletic tradition. That's been temporarily lost in this mess.
"This is becoming Comedy Central," Richard Codey, a state senator and former New Jersey governor, told The Star-Ledger. "It's an embarrassment to the students and alumni of a great university."
Codey is calling for the resignation of Rutgers president Robert Barchi. "It's time for Mr. Barchi to take his show on the road," he said. State senator Ray J. Lesniak and assembly speaker Sheila Oliver also want Barchi out.
Calls for new leadership will surely intensify as poor vetting and oversight has only been met with more poor vetting and oversight. Barchi oversees the athletics department, and he has failed to right the ship.
It is Barchi who called the Hermann selection process "rigorous," even though Hermann's name was reportedly not among the 60 recommended by an executive search committee. It is Barchi who said Hermann was the person to lead the athletic department out of trouble. Is that possible now? If you are a student-athlete or an assistant coach who feels abused by a coach at Rutgers, how comfortable would you feel going to an athletic director who has been accused of both verbal abuse and stamping out complaints about abuse?
If you are a student-athlete at Rutgers, how much do you trust Julie Hermann?
And if you're a member of the Rutgers community, how much do you trust the university president?
That question might go all the way to Gov. Chris Christie, who says he will meet with Hermann and school leadership in the weeks ahead. He gave Barchi a vote of confidence on Tuesday.
Rutgers is the state of New Jersey's flagship school. Ultimately it might be Christie who must carry the flag when it seems everyone else has dropped it.
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