Rutgers University is back in the headline–and not in a good way. Less than two months after the release of a video showing a coach abusing athletes sparked nationwide outrage and resulted in the dismissal of numerous staff and administration members, the university is under fire yet again.
The latest controversy involves Julie Hermann, who was hired as Athletic Director to replace Tim Pernetti. Pernetti was forced to resign in the fallout of the embarrassing scandal. Recently, allegations were made that Hermann, herself, has a shadowy past that has included actions not unlike the very behavior her predecessor was fired for enabling. Now, there is an outcry for not only her ouster, but also for that of the only person still standing in the original scandal’s aftermath – Rutgers University President Robert Barchi.
To refresh you memory: The month of April was a complete nightmare for Rutgers University. Then-head basketball coach Mike Rice was fired after being caught on tape physically and verbally assaulting his players over the course of three years. One of his assistant coaches, Jimmy Martelli, was also fired for being abusive. Others on the staff resigned in an attempt to separate themselves from the ugly ordeal. The media, the NCAA, educators and the general public all wanted answers. Who was responsible for enabling this behavior beyond Mike Rice? Many pointed the finger at Rutgers University President Robert Barchi. Barchi, however, assigned the majority of the blame to then-Athletic Director Tim Pernetti.
By May, with many involved in the matter terminated, Barchi and the university were ready for Rutgers athletics to turn the page on the events that tarnished the whole university’s reputation. It hired Parker Executive Search to manage a nationwide hunt for new athletic director candidates at a cost of $70,000. The Georgia-based firm was contractually obligated to conduct thorough background checks, “including criminal, credit and motor vehicle checks; confirmation of candidates’ degrees; and reference checks”. The university then created a 26-person selection committee to take part in selecting Pernetti’s successor.
On May 15, Julie Hermann was announced as the new Athletic Director. According to the university’s selection committee, Hermann was the most qualified of the 63 candidates who were interviewed for the position.
“Over the course of the search, Julie’s record established her as a proven leader in athletics administration with a strong commitment to academic success as well as athletic excellence, and a strong commitment to the well-being of student athletes,” Barchi recently stated.
Hermann was coming off a successful stint as executive senior associate director at the University of Louisville. Prior to her tenure at Louisville, Hermann was the head volleyball coach for the University of Tennessee in the 1990s. She had a noted reputation for being “tough” and “intense” – the same words that were once used to describe Mike Rice prior to his hiring. When she was hired, Hermann was celebrated for becoming only the third woman to carry the title of athletic director at one of 124 NCAA schools that have a Division I football team. However, the honeymoon didn’t last long.
On May 26th, New Jersey’s Star-Ledger reported that Hermann’s 1996 Tennessee volleyball team had made allegations that Hermann’s behavior wasn’t much different than Mike Rice’s. All 15 members of the team signed a two-page letter that explained Hermann’s “mental cruelty,” including, but not limited to: calling her players “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.” She has since vehemently denied these claims.
“Am I an intense coach? I’m absolutely an intense coach as many coaches are,” Hermann said. “But there is a big canyon between being super-intense and abuse. And this was not an abusive environment for these women.’’
But these are not the only charges against Hermann; the Ledger-Star also reported that Hermann has been involved in lawsuits that took place during her time at both Tennessee and Louisville. As head volleyball coach at Tennessee, Hermann was accused of threatening to fire assistant coach Ginger Hineline if she became pregnant. The lawsuit resulted in a $150,000 jury verdict.
At Louisville, assistant track and field coach Mary Banker sued the university for allegedly wrongfully terminating her after she voiced complaints to Hermann and the university’s human resource department of sex discrimination by the head track and field coach, Ron Mann. Although, Banker has assigned much of the blame to Hermann, she did not name her in the lawsuit that awarded her $300,000 before being overturned by an appeals court. The case is currently pending before the Kentucky Supreme Court. While the suit may not legally implicate Hermann, it certainly doesn’t help her embattled public image.
Hermann, Barchi and even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have all labeled the various allegations as “character assassination”. Christie, who was among the most outspoken during the Mike Rice scandal, has pledged to stay out of this new matter. But others, such as state senators, Ray J. Lesniak and Richard Codey, have been more vocal, actively calling for both Hermann’s and Robert Barchi’s dismissal. Lawmakers are not the only ones advocating for her removal, though. The Star-Ledger has reported that 87% of 3,800 people polled by the newspaper believe Hermann should be fired. And, even some members of the selection committee have been critical of the university’s hiring process.
The new controversy has led to turmoil among members of the selection committee. Leaders of the selection process, distinguished Rutgers alumnus Kate Sweeney and Rutgers Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Dick Edwards, addressed the criticism in an email to the committee: “You all had the opportunity to examine Julie’s credentials, to spend some time with her when she was on campus, and to provide us with your thoughts regarding her candidacy as Rutgers’ next Director of Intercollegiate Athletics”. This claim, however, has been challenged by others on the committee. Rutgers University Board of Trustee member, Ken Schmidt replied, “At this time, please do not try to re-write the facts. I suspect you will find others that share my opinion.” Fellow Rutgers Trustee, Ron Garutti seconded the sentiment, “Please, let’s not present this as any kind of exemplary process. Subsequent events have proven otherwise,” he said.
President Barchi defended Hermann and gave her a vote of confidence on May 24. It seemed as though Hermann would keep her job, despite the widespread calls for her removal. But by the end of the week, the university decided to postpone a series of on-campus meetings that Hermann, along with other athletic administrators and coaches, was scheduled to participate in, a move that suggests that, perhaps, her status actually is in jeopardy.
When he was appointed Rutgers University President in the spring of 2012, Robert Barchi, a former physician and neuroscientist, was hired to oversee Rutgers’ major integration of the schools and programs that made up the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. In November, he, with Pernetti, was also charged with orchestrating Rutgers’ highly publicized athletics conference transition from the tattered and fractured Big East Conference to the lucrative Big Ten Conference. Those important tasks were overshadowed by the initial coaching scandal. Now Barchi’s failure to double-down on the vetting process of a new athletic director has given the school yet another black eye. As a result, both his and Hermann’s fate are hanging in the balance.
Fix contributor Blake Baxter is a student at Eureka College.
(image by CellarDoorFilms / Flickr)