Just 12 hours ago, on May 28, the Associated Press announced that “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that he has ‘absolute confidence’ in the president of Rutgers University even as some lawmakers have called for Robert Barchi to step down amid a string of embarrassing revelations for the university’s athletic department.”
Once again, athletics is at the heart of controversy that has now painted one of the “top public research universities in the United States,” with a broad brushstroke of scandal that threatens the (once) nationally respected school with a base coat of scorn, followed by an overcoat of embarrassment and a top coat of disgust, quite the unnecessary attention brought about by the announcement, less than two weeks ago, of the hiring of Julie Hermann as the school’s new athletic director. It didn’t have to be this way. It still doesn’t have to remain this way. Here’s the recap for those keeping score at home.
Rutgers is the “only public university in New Jersey to be invited to join the Association of American Universities, an organization comprising the 62 leading universities in North America.” Rutgers as a competitive school naturally turns to the national landscape of their athletic program to boost their visibility in order to attract more of those “best and brightest” athletes to the school as they prepare to leave their conference for the big-time world of the Big Ten Conference.
But there’s a “hitch in the git-a-long” on that mission. Rutgers was already in hot water with regard to athletics. Even an industrial tank of Clorox couldn’t clean up the stench that has surrounded Rutgers, beginning in April, when former Rutgers AD “Tim Pernetti resigned on April 5 in the wake of footage (that) came to light of then-head basketball coach Mike Rice (who) physically and verbally abused his players during multiple practices.”
A quick glance at Rutgers’ official media relations site today produces a sad, almost humorous, list of blurbs that represent the university’s statement to the world about who they are, what they represent, nay stand for, and what any future scholarly bright mind who can play a sport can expect from their future alma mater.
These blurbs include: “President Barchi to UMDNJ Grads: ‘Become the Architects of a Healthier Future’”; “Rutgers Confers More than 14,000 Degrees at its 247th Commencement”; “Statement by Incoming Director of Athletics Julie Hermann”; “Statement by Rutgers University President Robert L. Barchi In Support of Incoming Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Julie Hermann” and then, on the sidelines, “Four of Five Rutgers Law School Journals Headed by Women.”
It’s only natural then, that someone should want to call those four women who head the law school journals and ask them about how they feel about their university harboring, protecting, sheltering and defending Hermann, as head of their entire athletic division, and paying her $450,000 per year given her entire career that stands for demeaning, punitive, and unprofessional behavior towards female student-athletes.
It’s not just the stench of one isolated incident that Hermann brings with her in her quiver of arrows as she poses (or poises) to lead Rutgers athletics into the Big 10, to the tune of almost a half million dollars a year, set to start next month, her purported first workday of June 17.
Journalist Craig Wolff noted, in the online version of New Jersey’s paper, nj.com, updated information on Hermann’s influential leadership, coaching, and mentoring that begins at the prestigious University of Tennessee, in their Lady Vol Volleyball team. The heart of the story is threefold: 1) the letter written by Hermann’s former volleyball players to their school’s administration; 2) a video where Hermann “denies existence of a ‘wedding video’ that is cited by a 1997 lawsuit,’ wherein Hermann was a bridesmaid at the wedding party of Ginger Hineline, and the subsequent discriminatory treatment of Hineline by Hermann because she chose to have a family while working; and 3) a video that shows Hermann was indeed in the wedding party for Hineline, one of the anchors of Hineline’s winning a $150,000 suit against Tennessee for discrimination. Too many lines, too many lies, too many insults to want to try to keep up with, but here’s a start.
The heart of the Tennessee players’ letter to the school administration complaining of Hermann would rip the heart out of any parent whose child is a high school or college athlete:
“We have been lied to, publically (sic) humilated, and ripped apart as both players and people. The Lady Vol image is one of respect, pride and hard work. It is very difficult to respect someone who refers to her players as whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.”
Hermann had recently been the Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director at Louisville, wherein she was linked to (another) sexual discrimination suit there. The New York Times story, picked up on popular sports site sbnation.com, “New athletic director Julie Hermann is averaging a scandal a week at her new job after news broke that she was involved with a sex discrimination suit while at Louisville.”
The online biography of the former “Senior Woman Administrator” while at Louisville made clear the clean-up job that she (and perhaps others) tried to perform, noting she was:
“actively involved in the Louisville community….a 2008 Woman of Distinction by the Center for Women and Families, a 2004 Ladies of Leadership award winner from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, the 2006 Heart of the Community award presented by Women4Women, and in 2008 she received the Mary Kay Bonsteel Tachau Gender Equity Award from the University of Louisville.”
That’s either overkill or overarching ruination of the true value of any of those awards. The accusations of Hermann’s player abuses are from the 1990s. Did no one vet her or explore the reasons for that avalanche of awards that surely amount to a substantial amount of window dressing to turn the proverbial “pig’s ear into a silk purse”? Undoubtedly there are officials of those groups looking to purchase Liquid Paper or other removable solvent in light of the “revelations” if they are indeed those, of Hermann’s pathway to the stars she currently still intends to seek.
The world of higher education at Rutgers University, formerly prestigious and renowned has now been transformed into something resembling a three-ring circus as the latest announcement on May 29 is that New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who had boldly stated just two days ago, May 27, that he wanted to know more about the hiring of Julie Hermann as Rutgers’ new athletic director.
AP sports writer Tom Canavan’s story was carried across the country and particularly in the phillyburbs.com site the opening paragraph began: “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to speak with Rutgers officials about a report that the athletic director hired to clean up the school’s scandal-scarred program quit as Tennessee’s women’s volleyball coach 16 years ago after her players complained she ruled through humilation, fear and emotional abuse.”
Sounds pretty good, right? The same governor who has embraced Bruce Springsteen, shed tears over tragedy, and now is shedding pounds in a disputed effort to position himself as a future presidential candidate wanted Rutgers to know he was “on the job” watching over the students (and hopefully the faculty, the nationally respected research rankings, the law school, and whatever else is of value there). Hope reigns, right? Not so fast.
The story continued: “Hermann was not immediately available for comment, but told The Star-Ledger that she did not recall the Tennessee letter. The newspaper said when it was read to her by phone, she replied, “Wow.” There’s a $450,000 per year leader quote for you.
But wait, there’s more. Gov. Chris Christie, today, is now officially backing up, off, and out of the process, claiming he doesn’t want to micromanage. Singing a brand new song, because it’s a brand new day, headlines in the Northwest Indiana nwi.com online paper carry the AP story with the title a’blazing: “Christie has absolute confidence in Rutgers leader.”
Plus the bonus is a photo of Rutgers president Robert L. Barchi seated to the let of Hermann, against the backdrop of the Rutgers athletics’ wallpaper, “R vision”…is that Rutgers’ vision? Is it Robert (Barchi’s) vision, or refusing to see the obvious as ridiculous vision? Surely it’s one of those choices.
Christie has done the hand-washing, passing of the baton or buck with the insightful quote in Canavan’s story:
“Let’s not engage in the character assassination that’s going on here,” said Christie, who said he does not know and has not met Hermann. “I understand that there are some people that feel differently about it. It doesn’t matter. What matters is: what did the administration at Rutgers believe?”
Gov. Christie said it doesn’t matter. Really? Fortunately, it matters to some people, one of whom is “likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. Barbara Buono, “who question whether Barchi is fit to lead the state’s flagship university,” noting “I have lost all confident in President Barchi’s ability to effectively guide our state university,” Buono said in a statement Tuesday.”
While everyone stands around and points fingers about proper vetting, didn’t know, wedding video, no wedding video, “discrimination, disshrimination” and other such disclaimers, the only one missing seems to be “your mileage may vary,” but really it doesn’t. Fact is, the word “embattled” hasn’t been pulled out of the Rutgers quiver yet to describe Julie Hermann. The word spineless hasn’t either, for Rutgers president Robert Bianchi, who is pulling the male equivalent of Tammy Wynette’s country classic, “Stand by your (Wo)man” on the Rutgers hire.
You have to wonder exactly what is at stake here for Hermann to still have her virtual old Tennessee vol claws dug in to the shaky precipice of the ivy-covered walls of Rutgers. Online there is a list of 426 notable alumni/graduates/students from Rutgers. One wonders what alumnus former U.S. Secretary of Energy Hazel Reid O’Leary thinks. Since she’s the president of Fisk University, she might have a valid opinion. One would bet that novelist Janet Evanovich, also a Rutgers’ alum, might have an entirely new plot for her next best seller with all the goings-on at her alma mater of late.
Wonder what the late, iconic basketball coach Jim Valvano, “Jimmy V” would think of the state of athletics at his former school. He knew champions, and how to coach them, and how to treat them with dignity and respect. One could ask Joan M. Quigley, an alumnus who served 20 years in the New Jersey General Assembly, or ask Nobel prize winner Milton Friedman about how he feels about the wisdom of his alma mater’s leadership at this time.
Most importantly, how does the current student body feel, how do the august group of faculty members feel about being affiliated with Hermann and led by Barchi? In every breath that is uttered in outrage about the (still effective) hiring of Hermann, “Barchi needs to go” should be the next thing said. No one will take Rutgers seriously in any field, athletics or science, engineering, law, or university leadership by the former jewel in the New Jersey crown of education until both Hermann and Barchi are shown the exit sign and quickly.
The natural path this sequence usually takes, when there is the closing of the guard, is for Barchi to reexamine his decision to stand by Hermann, after subsequent soul-search, reflection and talking with his trusted co-executive leaders, and maybe even the Board of Trustees which governs Rutgers. Patrick Rishe, a very wise contributor to the May 26 issue of Forbes has a statement that is never as true as it is today: “Rutgers President Barchi Must Go After Latest Hiring Gaffe Involving Oversight of Julie Hermann’s Past.”
It’s not just for Rishe to say, which he does, quite eloquently in fact. Moreover, it is for every female athlete to say, across Rutgers, across New Jersey, and across every university in New Jersey, as Julie Hermann is emblematic of everything wrong in college athletics, and Robert Barchi is symptomatic of a once-brilliant mind that crumbles under pressure, perhaps even hides under a desk, or a title, as his judgment is called into question and more scandals are brought to light.
Higher education is stained, fortunately not permanently, and the collision course can be corrected in one fell swoop, by firing Barchi and reneging on the contract with Hermann, before all the self-respecting incoming freshmen, female or male, choose to go to “anywhere but Rutgers,” and quickly. Rutgers may think it’s suited for the Big 10 but right now they’re in a league of their own, and it’s not a league that anyone else should really want to belong in.
As comedian Groucho Marx once said, “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” Who exactly wants to belong to a school and its athletic programs with higher education leadership such as the teams led by Hermann and protected by Barchi? The secret word is: resign.