It has been a tough spring for Rutgers University and its athletics department. Less than two months after parting ways with former men’s basketball coach, Mike Rice, and athletics director, Tim Pernetti, amid allegations that Rice verbally and physically abused Rutgers basketball players and Pernetti did not fire him upon learning of the allegations, Rutgers announced the hiring of a new athletics director. Unfortunately for Rutgers, though, the hiring of a new athletics director has not shifted media attention away from the university and its athletics department. Rather, as time goes on, the May 15 hiring of Julie Hermann has only ignited another media firestorm.
From all accounts, the May 15 hiring of Julie Hermann was initially lauded as a move in the right direction for the New Jersey university. There was some thought, that bringing a female into the mix at Rutgers as an athletics director would quash concerns over alleged abusive behavior taking place behind-the-scenes at practices. However, that notion was quickly dispelled when reports surfaced that Hermann herself allegedly verbally berated players during her stint as head volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee. Hermann has denied these allegations.
The Tennessee allegations against Hermann were not enough to make Rutgers turn from its incoming athletics director. Rather, university president Robert Barchi iterated that Rutgers was standing behind Hermann, and that Hermann still had a job as the university’s athletics director.
Did Barchi make the right decision?
New details related to Hermann and her career in intercollegiate athletics arose on Tuesday. According to a New York Times report, a sexual discrimination lawsuit was filed against the Louisville athletics department in 2008, when Hermann was serving as a senior athletics administrator. The case arose after an assistant track and field coach complained of discriminatory behavior by the team’s head coach. The assistant track and field coach allegedly aired her grievances to Hermann and a human resources official. She was allegedly fired three weeks later. Louisville asserted that the former assistant coach was relieved of her duties because of concerns over her performance. Furthermore, Louisville officials have asserted that Hermann properly handled the situation. A jury ultimately awarded the former assistant coach $300,000 for emotional distress and lost wages. The ruling was overturned by a Kentucky appeals court. It is currently pending a ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
The story surrounding the 2008 lawsuit is not the only lawsuit to which Hermann was allegedly tied to. During the May 15 press release announcing her hiring, journalists peppered Hermann with questions related to a 1997 lawsuit in which she was involved. That lawsuit was filed by Ginger Hineline, who prior to the lawsuit, served as an assistant volleyball coach for Hermann at Tennessee. According to Hineline, Hermann discouraged her from becoming pregnant. Hineline, however, became pregnant. After becoming fired, Hineline alleged that she was fired as a result of becoming pregnant. Hermann and Tennessee officials argued that Hineline was fired over concerns related to her performance and not because of her pregnancy. A jury ultimately awareded Hineline $150,000.
Rutgers stated that it knew about the 2008 lawsuit against Louisville. It chose to hire Hermann nonetheless. Rutgers also knew about the 1997 lawsuit against Tennessee. It had university attorneys investigate the matter prior to hiring her. After the investigation, Rutgers chose to hire Hermann nonetheless.
The questions that remain then, are the following: Are the recent stories surrounding Julie Hermann non-issues that should be overlooked by Rutgers? Or, has Rutgers demonstrated an inability to hire athletics officials whose integrity is free from questioning?
In hiring Hermann, Rutgers relied upon a 26-person search committee and an executive search firm. The search committee featured members of Rutgers’ board of directors, deans, and was co-led by a senior vice president of Morgan Stanley. The executive search firm that Rutgers relied upon, Parker Executive Search firm based in Atlanta, GA, has been in business since 1984. During that time, it has conducted over 1,000 senior-level searches and has worked with numerous Division I athletics departments. Notably, Parker Executive Search reportedly submitted 47 candidates to Rutgers. Hermann was reportedly not on that list. Rather, reports indicate that Hermann was brought to the attention of the search committee by the co-chair of the committee, Kate Sweeney, who is a Morgan Stanley senior vice president.
With the litigious nature of Americans in the 21st century, perhaps Sweeney and her fellow committee members determined that the litigation in which Hermann’s name arose was not worthy to cut her from their candidate list. Like Tennessee and Louisville, chances are that the Rutgers search committee believed that the two women who sued the universities did not properly perform their jobs and as such, were properly fired. Additionally, chances are that the search committee looked to Hermann’s Perhaps years in higher education and in working in some of the most successful athletics departments to laud her for the position of Rutgers’ athletics director. In the ordinary course, weighing Hermann’s candidacy in this manner would be appropriate. She likely would appear to be a competitive candidate.
However, in the wake of a major public scandal involving the athletics department’s integrity, was a candidate whose past is peppered with litigation the best choice for Rutgers? Was Julie Hermann the individual best suited to bring integrity back to Rutgers’ athletics department?
As for the answer to these questions, only the actions of Rutgers’ president and whether he allows Hermann to keep her post as Rutgers’ athletics director will tell.