April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Rutgers University President Robert Barchi should have looked at video of a basketball coach abusing his players much sooner than he did, though he shouldn’t be fired for the error, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.
Barchi apologized to the Rutgers community last week and said he regrets not viewing the tape sooner that showed former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice kicking players and throwing basketballs at them while using gay slurs. Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, Rice’s supervisor, resigned.
Christie, in his first press conference since the scandal broke last week, said he learned about it during a vacation when his communications director forwarded him the video. Christie said that college presidents cannot micromanage every issue and must delegate. He said if Barchi were to leave, it would be a setback in efforts to restructure the state’s higher education system.
“He made a mistake,” said Christie, 50, a first-term Republican seeking re-election in November. “It’s not a fireable offense.”
The governor said that as soon as he saw the video, he knew Rice should no longer be a coach, calling him an “animal” who should get help for his anger.
“Anyone who saw that video tape in November should have come to the same conclusion,” Christie said.
Christie also reiterated that Pernetti’s resignation was “appropriate and necessary.”
“He was the main person charged with supervision of Coach Rice,” Christie said. He said he called Pernetti once, after seeing the video, and spoke to him “as a friend,” not as governor.
“My advice to you is to get rid of him and get rid of him right away,” Christie said he told Pernetti, referring to Rice, who was initially suspended in December by New Brunswick, New Jersey-based Rutgers.
Pernetti said in his resignation letter April 5 that his instinct when he saw the video in November was to fire Rice, rather than suspend him. He said Rutgers got lawyers, human resources and outside counsel involved, and following a review, it was decided that school policy “would not justify dismissal.
Yet, the outside law firm’s Nov. 26 investigative report, released Friday, concluded that Rice’s action could have violated his contract.
Pernetti and Rutgers agreed on a severance package giving him $1.2 million in salary, two years of health insurance, a $12,000-a-year car allowance and possession of a school-issued laptop and iPad, according to the Associated Press.
Pernetti gets to keep the money even if he takes another job and the school won’t make any derogatory statements about him to the news media or potential employers, AP reported, citing details of the settlement obtained through an open-records request.
“I don’t think it was unreasonable,” Christie said at the news conference of Pernetti’s $1.2 million payout.
The governor also said the university would be hurt “drastically” if Barchi were to leave amid plans to reorganize Rutgers, including merging with the state’s medical schools, which Christie supports.
“Not only would it be a setback to the merger, it would be a setback to the strategic plan for Rutgers,” said Christie, who shot down calls for state legislative hearings on the scandal, saying it would continue “reputational damage” to the school.
State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat who proposed last week holding the hearings, said Christie’s remark was “extremely disingenuous,” and that the legislature has an obligation to “explore the process by which an unhealthy environment was allowed to exist” at Rutgers.
Barchi held a town hall meeting today with members of the Rutgers Newark campus, where faculty had been especially critical of the reorganization.
Barchi said that athletic administrators will review all teams’ practice tapes for instances of bullying.
“I will not tolerate that,” Barchi said, referring to anti-gay behavior. “I never have in my public life and I never will.”
Five students punctuated the meeting with calls for his resignation. The protestors were upset over the basketball scandal and disputes over university funding, said Christian McFarland, who held up a sign saying “Give Barchi the Boot.”
“Barchi needs to go the same way Coach Rice and the athletic director did,” said McFarland, who will complete a master’s degree in jazz history next month. “The way we see it, it’s two down and one to go. He covered up for it.”
Steven Goldstein, a Rutgers administrator and gay-rights activist, offered last week to help Barchi and two other administrators handle the crisis over Rice’s abuse and homophobic slurs. Goldstein said he never heard back.
An April 4 letter from Goldstein, who founded Garden State Equality, a civil-rights group that successfully pushed for anti-bullying laws, cited Rutgers’s “astonishing lack of sensitivity” to gay, bisexual and transgender students, according to a copy obtained by Bloomberg. Most notable was the 2010 suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi after a video of him kissing a man was streamed on the Internet by his roommate.
“It’s just astounding,” said Goldstein, who was hired from Garden State in January as an associate chancellor on Rutgers’s Newark campus. “One would think the administration would drag me kicking and screaming to help them with damage control and to help make Rutgers the better place it needs to be” for gay students and the entire community.
Barchi and Ralph Izzo, chairman of the school’s Board of Governors said in a statement today they plan to commission an independent review of the handling of the allegations against Rice.
Izzo also said that he found out April 6 that the head of the board’s committee on Intercollegiate Athletics had viewed a video in December showing Rice’s abuse of players. The committee’s chairman is Mark P. Hershhorn. Neither the full committee nor any other member of the Board of Governors had seen the video, Izzo said.
New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, said today that the only way for Rutgers to move on is for full disclosure on who knew what and when.
“Any trustee or member of the Board of Governors who witnessed the tape at any point before it was publicly aired, and took no action, should be removed or resign immediately,” Sweeney said in a statement. “The standard for them, or anyone in a position of authority at Rutgers, should be no different than for Mike Rice or Tim Pernetti.”
A voicemail left at Hershhorn’s office wasn’t returned.
The decision in December by Barchi and Athletic Director Tim Pernetti to suspend and fine Rice $50,000 rather than fire him may have been taken partly because of the politics of intercollegiate sports, according to Scott Minto, director of the sports MBA program at San Diego State University. Rice’s suspension came three weeks after Rutgers was invited to join the Big Ten Conference.
“While we remain interested in the outcome of Rutgers’ review, and will continue to monitor the situation as appropriate, it will have no impact on Rutgers’ transition to, or membership in, the Big Ten Conference,” Jim Delany, the Big Ten’s commissioner, said in a statement last week.