The search process that led to the hiring of Julie Hermann as
Rutgers University's new athletic director was rushed and flawed,
according to emails written by two members of the selection
committee in the days since fresh questions arose about troubling
episodes in Hermann's past.
The emails, which ESPN posted on its website on Wednesday, appeared to undermine the official pronouncement from Rutgers officials that the process had been thorough. One of the committee's 26 members accused the panel's leaders of trying to "rewrite the facts" by suggesting that there had been ample time to review Hermann's credentials and record.
That message, from Ken Schmidt, was sent in response to a memo that Richard Edwards and Kate Sweeney, who led the panel, sent after reports surfaced that Hermann had been accused of verbally abusing and humiliating volleyball players at the University of Tennessee when she was a coach there in the 1990s.
"As members of the Search Advisory Team," Sweeney and Edwards wrote, "you all had the opportunity to examine Julie's credentials, to spend some time with her when she was on campus, and to provide us with your thoughts regarding her candidacy as Rutgers' next Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. As you know, there was strong support for Julie, and for what she could bring to Rutgers."
But Schmidt and another member, Ronald Garutti, replied separately to everyone in the group, taking strong exception to the account given by Sweeney and Edwards.
"Dick and Kate, The members of the Search Committee that were not on the Executive Search Committee spent very little time with the final two candidates," Schmidt wrote. "There was very little information about the candidates disseminated to the larger Committee. Most of the information we received was what was leaked to the media. At this time, please do not try and rewrite the facts. I suspect you will find others that share my opinion."
In a longer email, Garutti said the committee had been given little time to vet Hermann and one other finalist for the job. He said he received background information about the candidates at 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday, less than 12 hours before interviews that were scheduled for the following morning.
"Please, let us not at this late date attempt to convince ourselves and the public that there was sufficient time to delve deeply into either candidate's documents."
Rutgers declined to comment Wednesday on the emails or any other aspect of Hermann's hiring as more questions surfaced about the vetting process and amid calls for Hermann and Rutgers' president, Robert L. Barchi, to step down.
Hermann has denied that she abused her volleyball players at the University of Tennessee and has said she does not remember a 1997 meeting in which 15 players presented her with a letter detailing the allegations. She also has said she does not remember serving as a bridesmaid and catching the bridal bouquet at the 1994 wedding of an assistant coach who was later awarded a $150,000 judgment in a discrimination lawsuit. The assistant accused Hermann of firing her because she became pregnant.
The charges of player abuse particularly rankle at Rutgers. Hermann's predecessor was ousted for failing to immediately fire Mike Rice, the university's men's basketball coach, after video footage surfaced of him physically and verbally abusing players.
Hermann's resignation after six seasons as the University of Tennessee's head volleyball coach did not make major headlines, but the campus paper, The Daily Beacon, noted in a story published on June 20, 1997, that the "rumors about the real reason for Hermann's resignation are as plentiful as traffic problems are on football Saturday in Knoxville."
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Garutti said members of the full search committee were not informed of potential issues from Hermann's past as a coach and administrator. He said, however, that they were informed about two lawsuits in which she was involved -- the discrimination suit filed by the former University of Tennessee assistant coach and a sex discrimination suit filed in 2008 against the University of Louisville, where Hermann served most recently as executive senior associate director of athletics.
In the email, which Garutti confirmed he had written, he said he had raised concerns about the earlier lawsuit. "I specifically told the Exec. Co. in my 'I have concerns' email Monday afternoon after the interviews that I was still concerned about the pregnancy discrimination lawsuit that was litigated against Julie," he wrote. "So please let's not present this as any kind of exemplary process. Subsequent events have proven otherwise."
Despite his concerns about the process, he said he would support Hermann, who is scheduled to start at Rutgers on June 17 at an annual salary of $450,000. "My job, loving Rutgers the way I do, is to support the candidate chosen."
Rutgers officials have said they were aware of the suits before Hermann was selected but not of the abuse allegations. The firm that Rutgers paid $70,000 to find and vet the candidates, Parker Executive Search, declined a request for comment. Others have questioned how thorough a search the firm did for its fee.
One of Hermann's former Tennessee players went public for the first time Wednesday, defending teammates who have said Hermann was an abusive coach.
Erin Zammett Ruddy, a magazine journalist from Long Island, identified herself in her personal blog as one of 15 Tennessee volleyball players who wrote a letter to university officials in 1997 accusing Hermann of being abusive and, she wrote, "taking the sport we have all dedicated our lives to and making it the enemy." Reached by phone, she declined to comment and said she would let her blog post speak for itself.
"My teammates who shared painful experiences and who went on the record are essentially being called liars and I can't stand by and let that happen," Ruddy wrote. "To hear our credibility and our motivation called into question is infuriating."
She added that Hermann might be a good administrator, and might have learned from her experience at Tennessee, where she stepped down as coach after her players confronted her. But Ruddy said Rutgers had made a mistake by hiring Hermann following an abuse scandal.
"It's only because she was hired by Rutgers -- Rutgers! -- in the wake of an abuse scandal that our past experience is even relevant," she wrote. "This reflects worse on Rutgers than it does on Julie."
Support for Hermann
Barchi has said he is standing behind Hermann, and Governor Christie has expressed his support for Barchi. At an appearance in Belleville on Wednesday the governor said he has spoken to university leaders about the Hermann controversy.
"I've certainly had conversations with them over the last weekend, got a lot of my questions answered," he said. "This is up to them to make these decisions, not me."
But Barchi remains under fire as others -- including some legislators and Rutgers faculty members and alumni -- are calling for his ouster.
"Barchi has shown an unwillingness to learn from his mistakes," said Robert Snyder, a journalism professor, citing the Rice episode and a controversy that briefly erupted over his replacement, Eddie Jordan, who, it turned out, did not graduate from Rutgers as the university initially suggested.
An alumna, Kadi Driscoll, said she's tired of hearing the negative stories about her alma mater on the local news in San Francisco, where she is a graduate student.
"This is national news, it's affecting all of us alumni," said Driscoll, who created a Facebook page calling for Barchi's ouster. "I'm just tired of defending the school."
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