Rutgers still feels effects of basketball coach scandal

John B. Wolf
John B. Wolf
Posted: April 12, 2013

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Rutgers University's board of governors resumed talks of mergers and strategic plans Thursday as the school attempted to move beyond the controversy over the firing of basketball coach Mike Rice.

The board's first meeting since ESPN reported on Rice's physical and verbal abuse of players focused on the university's future, including the pending absorption of the University of Medicine and Denistry of New Jersey.

But the Rice fallout lingered. The governors pledged a thorough, independent investigation; players begged for normalcy; and president Robert L. Barchi created a diversity office.

Even the appointment of a respected former state attorney general as the university's top lawyer was mired in the mess.

John J. Farmer Jr., who served as attorney general from 1999 to 2002, will leave his post as dean of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark to serve as senior vice president and general counsel for the rest of his contract, which ends June 2014.

Farmer will fill the job vacated by John B. Wolf, who was involved in the initial discussions of Rice's behavior in December. Rice at first was suspended, fined, and ordered to anger management counseling after he was observed on video throwing basketballs at players and using antigay slurs.

Wolf resigned from the leadership role last week and planned to stay as a university attorney, earning $280,775. Elected officials and others objected and called for Wolf's removal. Wolf resigned Wednesday night.

"While I regret the circumstances surrounding my departure from Rutgers," Wolf said in a statement from the university Thursday morning, "I always will have very fond memories of the challenges and achievements that I have been part of and the many colleagues and friends, both inside and outside the university, with whom I have worked at Rutgers since 1984."

In an interview, Farmer described the circumstances of his appointment as "a regrettable episode, but in reality, the noise of the moment."

He said he planned to consult with Wolf about his new job. "He's been with Rutgers since 1984 and has handled every sensitive labor negotiation over the last several cycles, so it's inconceivable, with the issues that we're facing on the labor front . . . that I wouldn't reach out to him," Farmer said.

Farmer will be replaced at the Newark law school by vice Dean Ronald Chen, former public advocate for New Jersey. Rutgers' Newark and Camden law schools are in the midst of planning a merger.

Chen "was the chairman on our end of the merger committee, so he's been driving that push now for a while," Farmer said. "I made a point in these negotiations to attempt to secure the [university's] commitments. . . . I don't want the merger of the law schools to lose any momentum."

The university also announced the creation of the Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and the reestablishment of the Council on Diversity, and the creation of four vice-chancellor positions to focus on diversity for each campus plus the future medical school.

Before the public meeting began, an ad hoc news conference was called by members of the men's basketball team. Players including Myles Mack, Wally Judge, and Logan Kelley, as well as Kelley's mother, Susan, expressed support for interim coach David Cox and said they wanted stability to return to the program.

"Mike Rice, we wish him the best of luck," Judge said. "Now it's time for us to move on."

Judge said the "things seen on the tape weren't as bad" as they seemed.

At the meeting, vice chair Gerald C. Harvey reiterated the university's commitment to commissioning an outside attorney to do an independent review, though he provided few details.

"It will be our mandate to them that that independent review will be thorough and thoughtful. It will be expeditious, but it won't be hurried," he said. "We have to get this review right, and we have to get the recommendations fully understood and vetted."

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, 1976 alumnus Andy Sisti defended Tim Pernetti, the athletic director who resigned last week, and asked administrators to consider reinstating him.

But when Barchi and Harvey later spoke to reporters, Pernetti's fate seemed clear.

"My thought is now as it was then: I took the actions that I took - actually, let us remember that Tim took the actions that he took," Barchi said, "because he thought it was in the best interests of the university, and I supported Tim in his actions then and I believed he did the right thing. And I still believe that."

And as Barchi closed the questioning on Pernetti, he and Harvey defended, to a point, embattled board member Mark Hershhorn, who chairs the board's committee on intercollegiate athletics and saw the video last fall.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D., Gloucester) spoke to the board before it went into closed session early Thursday afternoon, reiterating his call for Hershhorn to step down or be removed. No such action was taken at the meeting, and Hershhorn was not present during Sweeney's remarks or the later public session.

Hershhorn had to leave early, Harvey said, and also did not chair the athletic committee at Thursday's meeting. Harvey said he did not ask why Hershhorn could not stay.

Barchi, who has noted that he serves without contract at the will of the board, referred questions on Hershhorn to Harvey, who declined to answer until more information is known. But for now, Harvey said, "no action has been taken" regarding Hershhorn's position and he remains with the university.


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

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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