Thursday, December 28, 2017

Major failure at Oregon

I have a healthy suspicion of mass firings as a cure-all for problems with intercollegiate athletes who commit sexual violence (see for example, Baylor). Firings do not automatically change culture (see Penn State and the vehemence with which students protested the firing of Joe Paterno).

In the case of University of Oregon, however, a house cleaning was in order after a 2014 report of sexual assault by several basketball players, one of whom had transferred to UO after being kicked out of Providence College for alleged participation in a gang rape. Despite the allegations by an undergraduate female, the players were not suspended from the team until after the post-season; a move that drew considerable criticism. We blogged about it several times including when there was a settlement that ended the lawsuit brought by the victim against the university; a lawsuit that included head men's basketball coach, Dana Altman.

Altman and others at the university including the Title IX coordinator and the president are now implicated in the case involving basketball player Kavell Bigby-Williams who was under investigation for forcible sexual assault ALL OF LAST SEASON.  

Last season was Williams's first. He transferred from a junior college, Gillette College, in Wyoming. His former school, which he was visiting right before moving permanently to Eugene in the summer of 2016, is where the assault took place. Allegations include non-consensual sex with a female student. One of the Gillette police investigators attempted to speak with Bigby-Williams and when she was not successful she contacted a detective with UO police who also tried to interview Bigby-Williams until she received a call from the lawyer representing the athlete; the lawyer is based on Wyoming and is Bigby-Williams's former assistant coach. 

Oregon's Title IX coordinator was alerted but she never reported the investigation and allegations to the director of student conduct and community standards per UO's own published policies and procedures--revised after the 2014 allegations. A team should have convened to assess the situation and determine if emergency action needed to be taken to protect members of the campus community based on the evidence available. Some administrators contest that this does not always takes place, while others says there was not enough information about the allegations in Wyoming to move forward. This was not true because the Wyoming police had sent police reports to the school. Nevertheless UO never conducted its own investigation into Bigby-Williams who continued to play on the team and make the coach who recruited him very happy.

Altman claims he did not know about the exact allegations and others at UO corroborate his story by saying they shielded him from knowledge of the exact nature of the allegations because there was not going to be an investigation.

The logic is dizzying--and the "defense" is likely not true. The student journalist who was covering the story requested the coach's (publicly paid for) cell phone records. The university took over 100 days to produce them and charged the student almost $500 for the records which revealed a series of calls between Altman and the deputy Title IX coordinator and Altman and Bigby-Williams's former head coach--all within 48 hours of the school's notification of the assault investigation.

Here is the recap: a current UO basketball player was accused of rape at another school. Oregon was notified of the allegations and was sent extensive police records. They did not follow their own procedures when they failed to do an immediate assessment and subsequent investigation. They have apparently lied about who knew what when. And, in general, they have continued to behave badly. President Michael Schill was asked about his awareness of the situation by student journalists in the early fall. He said he didn't know anything and then got snippy--and highly unprofessional--with them: "In any event, I can’t comment on an individual student. What if I was asked by another reporter about you being obnoxious? Would you want me to tell them that?"

Oh yea, and the athletics department is currently facing sanctions from the NCAA over program violations--which they are contesting. They self-reported the violations* in men's and women's basketball as well as track and field. But they are disputing the severity of the infractions (NCAA has a four category violation hierarchy). Athletics Director Rob Mullens said of the coaches involved: "they have the highest ethical standards on and off the court, and each acknowledges the infractions that took place within their programs."

That he can say that just weeks after the Bigby-Williams situation came to light is gratingly hypocritical as are his pat-ourselves-on-the-back references to the monitoring program that found the violations and the compliance training that will be done in light of the violations.

Where is the program monitoring the character, behavior, and potential issues with recruits and athletes currently on campus? Where is the accountability for administrators who are not only not doing their jobs, but breaking the law?

I initially thought this was a complicated situation what with two sets of campus police and two sets of administrators. But it is not complicated. Oregon had a duty to investigate once it was informed that one of its students had been accused of rape. They did not. At least a handful of people have apparently lied at various stages to the Oregon community and certainly to the public if not to each other.

Yet, no one seems in danger of losing his/her job.**

Maybe that's because the Ducks are currently first in the Pac-12 despite all these "distractions."

It's not complicated at all.

* Also noted for the record, the university in 1981 had a violation deemed "lack of institutional control" over several programs, including men's basketball.

**  If I had to speculate, the Title IX coordinator and deputy coordinator will be ousted if there is a call for accountability.