Rutgers University President Robert Barchi resisted calls to resign as Athletic Director Tim Pernetti stepped down and blamed administrators for not letting him immediately fire the basketball coach for abusing players.
Barchi apologized to students, players and faculty and said he regrets not seeing video of the abuse sooner. Still, he said his term is at the will of Rutgers’s Board of Governors, whose chairman, Ralph Izzo, told reporters there are no plans to oust Barchi.
“I wish I had the opportunity to go back and override” the initial decision not to fire coach Mike Rice, Barchi said. “The outcome would have been different.”
The April 3 dismissal of Rice followed the nationally telecast video showing him physically and verbally attacking players at practices while using gay slurs. Pernetti said in his resignation letter that his instincts when he saw the video were to fire Rice, rather than suspend him.
“However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel,” Pernetti wrote. “Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a first-term Republican seeking re-election in November, called Pernetti’s decision to resign “appropriate and necessary,” according to a statement. Christie commended Barchi for taking steps to establish new leadership for the athletic department.
Barchi, 66, a neurologist and former University of Pennsylvania provost, vowed after his appointment last April to add medical and dental schools, and to lead Rutgers to “the position of leadership to which it is rightfully entitled.” The scandal may make that goal tougher to achieve, lawmakers said.
“This incident will continue to hang over Rutgers like a dark cloud for weeks, months and perhaps years to come,” state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Since becoming the school’s 20th president, Barchi has set about implementing Governor Chris Christie’s directive to reorganize the state’s higher education system, including the merger of Rutgers and state medical schools.
Owais Hashmi, a junior finance major who lives on campus at Chi Psi fraternity, said Barchi should keep his job.
“I don’t think that Barchi should eventually get the boot because he’s spearheaded the Rutgers/UMDNJ merger and he’s doing a lot of things beyond that,” Hashmi said outside the student center today, refering to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. “He hasn’t done a single thing that was bad or a black eye prior to this point,” he said.
Rutgers teachers, through their union, last night called on the school’s Board of Governors “to restore the confidence of our students and their parents that abuse of authority will not be tolerated at Rutgers.” The number of faculty members calling for Barchi’s immediate resignation swelled yesterday to at least 50.
“Although President Barchi is now suggesting otherwise, he has known about Coach Rice’s homophobic, misogynist and abusive behavior for several months,” 10 faculty members said in a letter to the board of governors and board of trustees two days ago demanding Barchi’s immediate resignation. “Not only did he not fire Coach Rice, he in essence covered up the coach’s actions by failing to tell faculty and students about them.”
Rice was initially suspended and fined $50,000 in December, three weeks after Rutgers was invited to join the Big Ten Conference, a move from the Big East Conference that may increase the school’s athletic-department income by millions of dollars.
That initial decision may have been taken in part because of the politics of intercollegiate sports, said Scott Minto, director of the sports MBA program at San Diego State University.
“There were political implications,” Minto said. “I don’t see how as a manager you err on the side of slapping someone on the wrist unless you are making a more strategic decision overall.”
Jim Delaney, commissioner of the Big Ten, said in a statement that while the conference is interested in the outcome of the university’s investigation, the situation “will have no impact on Rutgers’s transition to, or membership in, the Big Ten.”
A Dec. 27 letter to the school’s legal counsel from the attorney of Eric Murdock, Rutgers’ former director of basketball player development, alleged that Pernetti knew about the abuse as early as June. Attorney Barry Kozyra said in the letter that he submitted a CD containing audio recordings of phone conversations between Murdock, Rice and Pernetti from that time.
Murdock, a former NBA player, is suing the university for wrongful termination, saying his contract wasn’t renewed because he brought Rice’s behavior to their attention. He is seeking $950,000 to resolve his claims, according to the letter.
Barchi denied any coverup. He said he first saw the video on the evening of April 2, and decided immediately afterward that the coach must go. Rice was fired the next day.
Rice’s conduct was “‘unacceptable and does not represent the high standard of leadership and accountability we strive for within the Rutgers athletics program,” Barchi said.
“I’m not going to try to defend myself,” Barchi told reporters today. “That’s for the people I report to to make a decision about.”
Pernetti said in his resignation letter that he and Barchi agreed earlier today that stepping down was “in the best interests” of the school.
“My continued tenure as athletic director is no longer sustainable for the university which I attended and where a piece of me will always remain,” Pernetti wrote in the letter to Barchi. “I trust that my tenure at Rutgers will not be judged by this one incident.”
State funding for Rutgers, New Jersey’s flagship public university, fell 10 percent to $262 million in the three fiscal years through June 2012. The school’s subsidy to sports programs was $28.5 million in fiscal 2011, the largest among 54 U.S. public universities in the six biggest football conferences, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
As a result, academic units were forced to cut budgets. The history department stopped paying for faculty telephones and the psychology department chairman issued a directive suggesting professors give shorter and fewer tests to save money on photocopying.
The diversion of cash to subsidize sports rankled some professors.
“We call on the board of governors, once again, to revisit their oversight of the athletics department and to create a healthy balance between academics and athletics,” the Rutgers chapter of the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers said in a statement last night.
Rutgers is tied with Big Ten member Minnesota for 68th place in the 2013 U.S. News & World Report rankings of best colleges. Until the basketball scandal broke, Rutgers’ academic ambitions had been buoyed by the school’s announcement it was switching to the Big Ten. Like Rutgers, all Big Ten colleges except Nebraska are in the Association of American Universities, an invitation-only group of 62 research schools. The conference also makes up the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which facilitates sharing of academic resources.
The school’s biggest benefit from the switch may be getting a share of conference revenue -- $265 million in 2010 -- which may help erase the annual payment to the athletic department.
Rutgers, with more than 58,000 students on three campuses, was founded in 1766 as Queen’s College and renamed in 1825 after Revolutionary War hero Henry Rutgers. Graduates include economist Milton Friedman, singer Paul Robeson and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who went to the law school.
Rutgers spent $226,532 on the search that yielded Barchi, according to the Star-Ledger. His first-year base pay was $650,000, according to a copy of his contract provided by the school.
He was selected president by the school’s board of governors, with 11 voting members, who acted with the advice and consent of the board of trustees, which has 59 votes. Christie, 50, appoints six of the governors, with the rest elected by the trustees. Among the trustees with voting rights, five are chosen by the governor.
The airing by ESPN of video showing Rice grabbing and pushing players, haranguing them with expletive-laden homophobic slurs and hurling basketballs at their heads, came just over a year after Rutgers student Dharun Ravi was convicted of invasion of privacy for spying on his gay roommate, freshman Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide in 2010 after video of him kissing a man was recorded and posted on the Internet by Ravi.
The incident pushed Rutgers to the forefront of a national discussion about bullying and the treatment of young gays, and the school in February named a center to honor Clementi that will be used for anti-bullying programs.
Rutgers leaders must explain “how such an abusive environment was ever permitted to exist at our state university,” Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, a Democrat from Bridgeton who heads her house’s higher education committee, said in a statement two days ago.
Pernetti, whose annual salary is $452,769, was included in a list last month of five nominees for athletic director of the year in the 2013 Sports Business Awards.
“Pernetti did accomplish some great things for the school,” Sweeney said. “His getting Rutgers into the Big Ten is a noteworthy achievement that we can be proud of. But his handling of this entire incident made this action necessary.”