At Rutgers, anger grows at handling of abusive coach

Robert Barchi, Rutgers' president, cited over "secrecy."
Robert Barchi, Rutgers' president, cited over "secrecy."
Posted: April 06, 2013

The firing of Rutgers University basketball coach Mike Rice and resignation of his assistant coach Jimmy Martelli do not appear to have quieted the scandal, as a concerned chorus of voices continued to rise.

While their approaches differ, most of the critics agree: More investigation is needed.

More than 50 faculty members have signed a letter calling for athletic director Tim Pernetti to be fired, while 28 faculty signed a separate letter calling for president Robert L. Barchi to step down.

The letter calling for Pernetti to be fired also demanded an explanation from Barchi for why he did not fire Rice last year when he learned of a video showing Rice kicking and shoving players and using antigay slurs.

Those calls for Pernetti's ouster were echoed by State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who released a statement Thursday calling for the AD to resign or be fired.

"It is becoming abundantly clear that Tim Pernetti cannot remain in his position as athletic director at Rutgers. For the good of the school, its students and its faculty, he should either resign or be removed from his position immediately," Sweeney said in a statement. "This incident will continue to hang over Rutgers like a dark cloud for weeks, months and perhaps years to come."

The other letter, calling for Barchi's resignation, was first sent to the university's board of trustees and board of governors Wednesday after Rice was fired. In it, the faculty members describe Barchi as having a "continued pattern of insensitivity and arrogance toward issues of diversity" and a "secrecy and lack of transparency that he has exhibited in his relations" with faculty, staff, and students.

The board of trustees has reportedly scheduled a special meeting of its executive committee for next Friday.

The school, which has 58,000 students, employs 13,000 full- and part-time faculty on its three campuses in New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden.

As Sweeney called for Pernetti's dismissal, the state's other top Democratic legislator reiterated her call for legislative hearings. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) began making public statements Wednesday about the possibility of hearings.

She went on ESPN's Outside the Lines program Thursday, stating definitively that "I am going to have legislative hearings," and emphasizing the Legislature's pursestring power over Rutgers' budget.

"The first concern here is finding out exactly how the decision was made not to dismiss Mr. Rice late last year and allow him to continue overseeing college students," Oliver said in a statement Thursday. "The answers to questions on the state's investment in Rutgers athletics and state budget allocations could very well depend on that explanation from the Rutgers administration."

A spokesman for the university declined to comment on the statements by Sweeney and Oliver or the faculty letters.

The union representing Rutgers faculty and staff released a statement Thursday, calling for hearings by the board of governors, the university's highest governing body.

"The governing board has an obligation to immediately investigate it and see who knew what when," said Patrick Nowlan, executive director of the Rutgers Council of American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers, in a phone interview. "Can you imagine if our faculty were throwing books or laptops at students?"

A Rutgers spokesman said he was not aware of any current or planned investigations.

He did confirm the resignation of Martelli, who is seen on video in one incident pushing a player and using an antigay slur. According to the ESPN report, he was known as "Baby Rice" for the similarities between his coaching style and Rice's.

Martelli is the son of St. Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli. He was also an assistant coach under Rice at Robert Morris University, before Rice hired him in 2010.

He released a statement Thursday through a law firm, apologizing to the players.

"I am sickened that as an assistant coach, I contributed in any way to an unacceptable culture. Wednesday, I resigned from Rutgers and I hope that coaches on all levels will learn something important from these events," Martelli said in the statement. "For my actions, I am deeply sorry and I apologize to the players from the bottom of my heart."

The university also confirmed Thursday that Rice is slated to collect a $100,000 bonus for lasting through the season. The university is contractually obligated to pay the bonus this month, an athletic department spokesman said. Rice's five-year contract included the bonus for completing the 2012-13 season, along with bonuses for winning games and graduating players. He was paid $662,500 last year.

When the video first surfaced last fall, Pernetti has said, he brought it to Barchi's attention. Barchi said in a statement Wednesday that he and Pernetti agreed at that time that Rice would be suspended for three games, penalized $75,000 in fines and lost salary, and sent to anger-management counseling.

An independent investigator also looked into the matter, Barchi said in his statement, and Pernetti "sought the advice of internal and outside counsel."

But Barchi said he did not see the video himself until Tuesday, the day it went public on ESPN. There are a few central questions that need to be answered, said Rutgers economics professor Mark R. Killingsworth: Why didn't Barchi watch the video when it was first brought to his attention? What did Pernetti tell him, and what changed between December 2012, when Rice was penalized, and Wednesday, when he was fired?

"There's nothing new in that famous video. That was what everybody saw, or what the small circle of Rutgers administrators saw, in November of 2012," Killingsworth said. "It wasn't bad enough to warrant firing then, why is it bad enough to warrant firing now?"


Contact Jonathan Lai

at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @elaijuh.

Inquirer staff writer Joelle Farrell contributed to this article, which contains information from the Associated Press.

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