Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A series of unfortunate events at the U

Here's what President Kaler said last Friday about the drunken sexts and gropes of Norwood Teague at a university function:

“I view this as the action of one man who was overserved and a series of bad events happened. It doesn’t reflect the culture and the values of the university.”

A "series of bad events happened." Teague was "overserved" alcohol. Right.

Even if you buy the claim that this latest series of unfortunate events does not reflect the values of the University of Minnesota, Kaler's weasel words do. They are the words that emit from every U official's mouth whenever a scandal is uncovered. There must be a PR manual in Morrill Hall with instructions. "Describe events in the passive voice. Deflect blame. Hide evidence. Insist that you acted swiftly and decisively just as you soon learned of the problem. Robotically repeat the phrase 'We are moving forward.'" 

Yesterday we learned that the two women who filed sexual harassment complaints against Teague were not alone. Teague had also been harassing Star Tribune reporter Amelia Rayno -- and not just on one drunken occasion. The harassment went on for eight months.

Kaler, who was "disappointed" to learn of Rayno's report, issued a statement that said: "The two reports that led to Friday’s resignation were the first of their kind to be reported to the University's Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office and President's Office, and the University took swift action."

The operative phrase here is "first of their kind."  Because today we learn from Star Tribune that the U paid $175,000 to settle a gender discrimination complaint against Teague last year. That settlement followed a $125,000 settlement for gender discrimination paid out by Virginia Commonwealth University, where Teague worked before Kaler recruited him to the U.

Why didn't Kaler mention this earlier?  Like, say, in 2014, or maybe on Friday, as he was announcing Teague's resignation?  Here is how U officials responded to questions from the Star Tribune. "University of Minnesota spokesman Evan Lapiska said the school has received only the two complaints about Teague. Asked about the (gender discrimination) complaint filed by Sullivan, Lapiska said it was filed against the U, not Teague. He would not say whether the university investigated the allegations made by Sullivan."

The university "declined to make Kaler available for an interview."

The larger question, of course, is not just how many other women Teague sexted, stalked or harassed, or how many times he was "overserved," or even whether there have been other gender discrimination complaints. The larger question is: how did he get away with it for three years? Was there really no clue about any of this in his past?

It is hard to disagree with columnist Dave DeLand of the St. Cloud Times:

Teague took advantage of that situation. He took advantage of his position and power. He took advantage of Rayno and his employees.

Sexual harassment is about power more than it’s about sex. It’s about using your position to flex your leverage over others, and to do it with impunity.

And that’s an unfortunate byproduct of the behemoth that big-time college athletics have become. At least tacitly, the system enables things like Teague’s abuses to happen.

This isn’t about being drunk and stupid.

This isn’t about being overserved, or oversexed.

This is about abuse of power, in a system that has completely forgotten the mission of a public university — to educate students, not to generate revenue and contributions for athletic facilities.

The Teague incident does reflect the culture and values of the university.

Unfortunately, it reflects those things all too well. It’s an ugly reflection.

No comments:

Post a Comment