Friday, September 4, 2015

I view this as the unfortunate action of one man with a cell-phone problem

It's autumn again. School buses on the streets, football on the tube, and the nostalgic, bittersweet smell of scandal in the air. Maybe I'm showing my age, but these days I find myself reminiscing about the highlights of the Bob Bruininks administration. You probably remember them: the Senate Finance Committee investigation, the Leo Furcht scandal, the Seroquel spin revelations, the Pepsi Dean affair, and of course, the Dan Markingson cover-up.  I'll be thinking back fondly on these episodes as I teach a new honors seminar on medical research scandals next week in the recently christened "Robert H. Bruininks Hall."
But I digress. Now is not the time to rehearse old medical scandals. No sir, not when the real business of the university is getting underway. It's hard to believe it has only been three weeks since we learned of the incompetent bartender who overserved athletic director Norwood Teague at a leadership retreat and set this whirlwind into motion. The sexting, the gender discrimination complaints, the unfortunate "colonel is coming after you" incident, it all blurs together. (Time flies when you're the headline item in the Star Tribune every day.)  Yesterday's update: five more complaints, this time about Teague's deputy, Mike Ellis.  

Following its time-honored PR strategy, the U is not saying what the complaints are about. Nor have there been any efforts this time to blame a bartender. But an anonymous email obtained by the Star Tribune says that Ellis was showing people porn on his cellphone at the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and someone complained. That someone soon found himself out of a job. Here is the way the Star Tribune describes it:

The Star Tribune has a copy of an anonymous complaint sent to U President Eric Kaler about Ellis and Teague on Aug. 10. The complaint, purportedly from members of the U’s “senior athletic staff,” alleges that Ellis had pornographic images of college-aged women on his cellphone and shared them with Teague and others in December 2012 at the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston, Texas, which the Gophers lost.

U spokesman Evan Lapiska said Thursday that this complaint relates to the same information in the January 2013 complaint against Ellis.

The August complaint says that when a senior member of the U athletic department and a member of the Gophers broadcasting team “made it known they were offended by the graphic images, that person was immediately shunned by the new senior administrators,” including Teague and Ellis. “A few days after returning from the bowl trip, this athletic administrator was shockingly fired for ‘reorganization purposes’ a move that very much troubled the rest of the athletic staff.”

Although the complaints do not name the person who was let go, the circumstances fit interim associate athletic director for external relations Chris Bahl, who was notified Jan. 10, 2013, that his contract would not be renewed in June as a result of a reorganization.

But here's the interesting part. The (alleged) problems with Ellis are not news to the U. According to the Star Tribune, the U received a complaint about Ellis in 2013. The complaint was even investigated by the human resources department. The result?  "The university’s human resources department investigated and closed the file without any disciplinary action."

No surprise there, at least not to anyone who has tried to file a complaint at the U.  But it does cast an interesting light on President Kaler's response to the initial news reports about Norwood Teague.

“I view this as the action of one man who was overserved [alcohol] and a series of bad events happened,” Kaler said at a news conference. “It doesn’t reflect the culture and the values of the university.”

"One man." "Overserved." "Bad events happened."  Well, it wasn't just one man; it wasn't just the result of being overserved; and let's be honest, the "bad events" are starting to look like a pattern. Sort of a twisted, frat-house-like pattern, only with middle-aged men and electronic devices. Arne Carlson saw this coming two years ago, but his calls for Kaler's removal are still being ignored.

Of course, this is the U. And we know how the U solves problems. I suspect that very soon, I will be teaching my classes in Eric Kaler Hall.

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