More Rutgers faculty seek firings in coach case

AP News
Posted: Apr 04, 2013 8:10 PM
More Rutgers faculty seek firings in coach case

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — The call from faculty members and politicians to oust top Rutgers University administrators grew louder Thursday, a day after men's basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for mistreating players, shoving them and berating them with gay slurs.

More than 50 faculty members signed a letter calling for the dismissal of Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and an explanation from President Robert Barchi for why he didn't fire Rice last year when he learned of a video showing Rice's behavior during practices.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney also called for Pernetti to step down or be fired. He said Pernetti deserves credit for getting Rutgers into the Big Ten conference but mishandled this situation.

"This incident will continue to hang over Rutgers like a dark cloud for weeks, months and perhaps years to come," the Democrat said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the number of faculty members calling for Barchi to step down more than doubled Thursday to 28.

The letter calling for Barchi's resignation was sent to the university's governing boards on Wednesday. In it, the faculty members cite Barchi's "inexcusable handling of coach Mike Rice's homophobic and misogynist abuse" of players, his "pattern of insensitivity and arrogance toward issues of diversity" and the "lack of transparency that he has exhibited in his relations" with faculty, staff and students.

It's unclear what effect the calls might have on the president or the athletic director. Neither was willing to be interviewed by The Associated Press. Barchi also skipped a town hall meeting he'd been scheduled to attend Thursday at Rutgers' Newark campus and declined to comment when he left his office. Members of the university's two governing boards have been mum.

Barchi, a neuroscience researcher before he became a university administrator, was hired a year ago and took office Sept. 1 to lead the university, which has 58,000 students and 13,000 faculty members on three campuses. He had been president of Thomas Jefferson University, a Philadelphia health sciences university, and before that was an administrator at the University of Pennsylvania.

He was brought to Rutgers as the university takes over two medical schools that are part of the separate University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The ongoing reconfiguration of the state's higher education system is intended to expand Rutgers' life-science research prowess, and Barchi was chosen largely to oversee that.

He had never been an administrator, though, at a school with athletic scholarships.

Over the past decade, Rutgers' athletic program has grown increasingly ambitious and expensive, largely as the university's football team transformed from an also-ran to a power in the Big East conference. The school's teams are set next year to join the more prestigious Big Ten, a move engineered largely by Pernetti, a former TV sports executive.

Shortly after Barchi took office, he told reporters that high-profile sports teams are an important way to increase the university's visibility but that he wanted to gradually reduce the university's operating subsidy for sports, currently about $8 million per year, while continuing to pay for scholarships for athletes at a cost of about $10 million annually.

Barchi said in a statement Wednesday that Pernetti told him last year about the video of Rice made by a former basketball program employee, but he said he did not watch the video until Tuesday, the day it was made public. A university spokesman declined to comment on why Barchi didn't watch the video last year.

In December, after the university consulted lawyers and commissioned an independent report on Rice's actions, Barchi said he agreed to suspend the coach for three games, fine him and order him to anger management counseling.

He said that when he saw the video, he realized that Rice needed to be removed.

The faculty members calling for Barchi to step down said in their letter that he knew enough to remove the coach months ago.

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

Ron Becker, head of special collections and university archives at Rutgers, said he believes the handling of the situation needs to be reviewed.

"The value of sports and the Division I atmosphere often trumps some of the basic needs of the university," he said. "The pressure to win and succeed at athletics seems to trump (academics) around here."

The university's student government association also released a statement saying that Rice deserved to be fired. It said it intended to work with Barchi and Pernetti "to ensure that incidents like this never happen again."

While practically everyone who has spoken publicly about the case says it was right to fire Rice, two players in interviews with The Associated Press on Thursday defended the coach, saying the snippets of video were taken out of context.

"I feel if people had a chance to see the other portions of practice, or had been at practice, their judgment would not be as severe," sophomore forward Austin Johnson said. "I am not saying what he did wasn't wrong, because I do believe it was wrong. But it is also tough because it was a highlight reel of his worst moments."

Junior Wally Judge said Rice, who apologized Wednesday, has treated him well and helped him grow as a person and a basketball player.

There also was a defense of Pernetti. According to Newark's The Star-Ledger, an athletic department fundraiser emailed Rutgers boosters asking them to contact Barchi and the head of the university's board of governors to voice support of him. University spokesman Greg Trevor would not comment on whether the email was sanctioned by the author's superiors.

A Rutgers assistant coach has resigned amid the scandal. According to The Star-Ledger, the assistant, Jimmy Martelli, could be seen on the video shoving a player.

Martelli said in a statement he was "sickened that as an assistant coach I contributed in any way to an unacceptable culture," and he apologized to the players "from the bottom of my heart."

The Associated Press also obtained a letter Thursday from a lawyer for Eric Murdock, the former basketball program employee who gave the video to university officials and later ESPN. The letter to a lawyer for Rutgers, dated Dec. 27, said Murdock was fired for telling school officials about Rice's behavior and would accept $950,000 not to file a lawsuit against the school. The letter also complained that the university did not seem to investigate when Murdock first complained about Rice in July, when an interim president was in office.

Democratic state lawmakers, particularly Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, have been calling for legislative hearings on why Rice was not fired sooner, but none had been scheduled.

Keeping the coach on through the season cost the university a portion of his salary — he was paid $622,500 in 2012 — and a $100,000 bonus for coaching the final game of the year. Athletic department spokesman Jason Baum said the university is contractually obligated to pay the bonus, due this month.


Delli Santi reported from Trenton. Also contributing to this report were AP reporters Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield and Katie Zezima in Newark and AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan.