Faculty urges Rutgers president to resign

Rutgers student Brendon Fitzsimons of Moorestown said after viewing the video it was not surprising that coach Mike Rice was fired on Wednesday, April 3, 2013. (Jonathon Lai/Inquirer Staff)
Rutgers student Brendon Fitzsimons of Moorestown said after viewing the video it was not surprising that coach Mike Rice was fired on Wednesday, April 3, 2013. (Jonathon Lai/Inquirer Staff) (Jonathan Lai)
Posted: April 05, 2013

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - The firing of Rutgers University men's basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday had some activists and elected officials applauding an action they said was months overdue, and others suggesting the need for a wider investigation.

"It was the right and necessary action to take in light of the conduct displayed on the videotape," Gov. Christie said in a statement.

Thirteen faculty members went further, demanding the resignation of school President Robert Barchi, citing a slow response to the video showing Rice angrily hitting, shoving and throwing balls at players during practices, and using anti-gay slurs.

The ESPN video, which was broadcast Tuesday and instantly went viral, was particularly upsetting at the university where 18-year-old freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide three years ago after fellow students used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man.

The professors' two-page letter to Rutgers Board of Governors and trustees said Barchi - who arrived in September after eight years as president of Thomas Jefferson University and also had been provost of the University of Pennsylvania - only fired Rice "after media attention forced him to do so."

The letter said Barchi showed a pattern of "insensitivity and arrogance" toward diversity.

"Although President Barchi is now suggesting otherwise, he has known about Coach Rice's homophobic, misogynist, and abusive behavior for several months now," it said. "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."

In fact, the faculty wrote, Barchi renewed Rice's contract around the same time the school learned of the video.

Other reaction around the state was not quite as pointed.

The incident "shows us that physical and emotional abuse of college students by faculty is occurring right under our noses," said U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D., N.J.), who along with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) has proposed legislation named for Clementi that would prohibit harassment of college students by other students, faculty, and staff.

Clementi's parents, Joseph and Jane Clementi, released a statement Wednesday praising the university for firing the third-year coach and trying to be more inclusive of vulnerable students.

"All students require safe environments to learn and reach their full potential, and Coach Rice's conduct has no place on a campus that is devoted to learning and fostering a sense of community," the couple said.

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) described the decision as months late and hinted the investigation needs to go deeper. "The athletic director has many questions to answer," he said.

Last fall, the university suspended Rice for three games and penalized him $75,000 in fines and lost salary when the same video was brought to the attention of athletic director Tim Pernetti. Rice was ordered to have anger-management counseling.

"I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice," Pernetti said in a statement Tuesday. "Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December, and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community."

Pernetti said 60 percent of the incidents captured on the tape happened in Rice's first season.

He said he also was upset with Rice for using a gay slur at the university where Clementi's privacy had been so compromised.

"I would tell you that that word was at the core of the suspension," he said. "It absolutely concerns me. It's not acceptable."

Firestorm

The social-media maelstrom that began when the tape went viral showed no signs of abating.

So a little after 7 a.m. Wednesday, Rutgers announced the firing of Rice in the Twitter feed for the university's athletic division.

A few hours later, Barchi went public too.

"Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior," he said in a statement. "I have now reached the conclusion that Coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively in a position that demands the highest levels of leadership, responsibility, and public accountability."

"He cannot continue to coach at Rutgers University," he said.

Rice addressed reporters outside his home in Little Silver, N.J., apologizing for his actions.

"As I stated three months ago, after I watched the video, how deeply regrettable those actions [were]. I also stated I was going to try to work on changing. I think I've accomplished a lot of that," Rice said.

"I've let so many people down: my players, my administration, Rutgers University, the fans. My family, who's sitting in their house just huddled around because of the fact their father was an embarrassment to them. It's troubling, but at some time maybe I'll try to explain it.

"But, right now, there's no explanation for what's on those films. There is no excuse for it. I was wrong. I want to tell everybody who's believed in me that I'm deeply sorry for the pain and hardship that I've caused," he said.

By sunrise Wednesday, a media blitz had descended upon the College Avenue campus, with news vans lining the street across from the student center.

Campus reaction

But the scandal did not appear to be the talk of the town, at least not publicly. There were no gossiping groups of students whispering about the coach. Students walking to class discussed their papers and personal lives; inside the student union, some gawked at the crowd of journalists.

Several students said they had heard about the firing, though they didn't want their names to be published. One student athlete said she had been told not to comment as she walked away.

"It's not a surprise, after watching the video," that Rice was fired, said Brendon Fitzsimons, 21, a junior from Moorestown studying sports management. "It was inappropriate" behavior.

The video might explain "why a lot of top recruits won't come here," Fitzsimons said. "I think he frightened players more than he inspired them."

Fitzsimons said it was the responsibility of Pernetti to protect athletes and prevent abuse.

The video was compiled by Eric Murdock, the former NBA player Rice hired as director of player development.

Pernetti has said Murdock's contract was not renewed; Murdock contends he was fired. In the context of that dispute, Murdock put together the footage and sent it to the school.

Rice was an assistant coach at St. Joseph's University from 2004 to 2006 (and hired St. Joe head coach Phil Martelli's son Jimmy Martelli at Rutgers).

As head coach at Robert Morris, he led the school to two NCAA tournament appearances, including a close loss to Villanova in 2010. That put Rice in the national spotlight, and Rutgers hired him a few months later.

But he wasn't able to push Rutgers into the upper echelon of the powerful Big East conference. Nor was he able to end the program's NCAA tournament drought, which dates to 1991.

Barchi, after two months as president, announced that the university would be joining the Big Ten athletic conference.

And now, as spring begins, high school seniors are mulling their college acceptances.


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

Inquirer staff writer Joseph A. Gambardello contributed to this article, which contains information from the Associated Press and Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com.

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