Moral issues surface in job decisions

by Kristin Gustafson

For 20 hours last week, University President Mark Yudof wrapped himself in the 2,500-page investigative report and determined the University’s fate in what he called a “colossal” academic scandal.
In the end, the contents of the final report on academic fraud pointed the way, Yudof said Saturday.
Yudof’s announcement of resignations, restructuring and new leadership came Friday. Yudof also apologized for the shame and embarrassment brought upon the University.
When the day was done, four top men’s athletics administrators lost their jobs as a result of the “systematic, widespread academic misconduct in the men’s basketball program” that Yudof said went unchecked from 1993 to 1998.
Though Yudof was certain of former men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins’ involvement as early as October — along with that of Jan Gangelhoff and Alonzo Newby — Yudof struggled to fire other University administrators without evidence of their involvement.
“I felt that I needed to be persuaded that there were things that (McKinley) Boston and (Mark) Dienhart and the others could have done that they didn’t do,” Yudof said.
“The wrong was never ambiguous,” he said. “It was morally reprehensible.”
But the morally ambiguous question for Yudof was “how far up the line do you go, and what standards do you apply?”
It was not until Tuesday, after investigators reworked the report’s compliance section and analyzed who should have known about the cheating and when, that Yudof decided to dismiss the two athletics administrators and change internal reporting policies.
Boston, vice president of student development and athletics, and Dienhart, men’s athletics director, resigned Friday.
Dienhart will stay on until Dec. 6. Boston will continue until June 30, but oversight of athletics was reassigned.
Contracts for the two other officials — Jeff Schemmel, senior associate men’s athletics director, and Chris Schoemann, NCAA compliance director — will not be renewed in June.
Yudof said he made his decision by basing it on the facts, the best way he knew.
“I always used to tell my students that when people go to heaven, God can examine the quality of their moral worth and their souls,” said Yudof, a former law professor. “But here on earth, we live by evidence and burdens of proof.”
Yudof spent 20 hours reviewing the results of the investigation. He worked most closely with three law-trained members of his staff: Sandra Gardebring, a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice and current vice president of Institutional Relations; Mark Rotenberg, the University’s general counsel; and Tonya Moten Brown, Yudof’s chief of staff and a former trial attorney.
“We went through the exhibits; we pulled out the testimony,” Yudof said.
After getting a revised draft from investigators, summarizing the evidence with more analysis about who shared responsibility, Yudof made up his mind Tuesday.
“It was rewritten with some more evidence, but a lot more analysis,” Yudof said. “I had no reason to challenge their conclusions.”
“I wrapped myself in the report,” he added. “I just felt: What would the board say or the taxpayers or the Legislature or the alumni? … Here you have an independent report that clearly points the way, and you have Yudof standing up and saying, ‘Well, you know it’s not quite as persuasive as I’d like.'”
Toppled administrators
Intermediaries first broke the news to Boston and Dienhart on Thursday evening after Yudof met with the Board of Regents, investigators and his staff in a closed-door meeting.
Yudof said he did not contact Boston and Dienhart himself because he wanted them to make decisions without strong-arming them. Both were scheduled to meet with Yudof Friday morning.
Dienhart canceled and resigned publicly Friday, just hours before Yudof made his own decisions public.
Boston waited until after Yudof’s press conference and then quietly met with media in his office.
Giving Boston the news was “very hard,” Yudof said of the man he called his friend and someone he guided professionally.
“I would have preferred to be anywhere except in that room,” Yudof said of his Friday morning appointment with Boston. “We had the most difficult … half-hour discussion of my life.”
Twin Cities African-Americans had supported Boston and voiced other concerns several weeks earlier, Yudof said.
“Some of the leaders were very concerned about Dr. Boston,” Yudof said. “He is highly regarded and indeed something of an icon … within the African-American community.”
“You’ve got a man who is deeply religious and a very loving man, a trusting man,” Yudof said of Boston. “In some ways, it’s his trust that got him into trouble.”
“He’s a class act all the time,” he added. “It’s very sad.”
But in the end, Yudof concluded it was reasonable to expect Boston and Dienhart to have blown the whistle or investigated the misconduct.
Dienhart’s supporters showed “enormous loyalty” through telephone calls, e-mails, letters and visits, rallying to keep the men’s athletic director at the University, Yudof said.
While Yudof believed their testimony of Dienhart’s character, he said he still had to consider the reports’ facts.
Dienhart said at the time of his resignation he was a whistle-blower because of his disassociation of Gangelhoff. The action prompted the former tutor to go to the media with her story and eventually sparked the University’s investigation, Haskins’ resignation, former academic counselor Alonzo Newby’s firing, men’s basketball self-sanctions and other actions.
Yudof said Dienhart acted appropriately in this instance. But it would have been better if it happened in 1995 or 1996, Yudof said.
“He did blow the whistle,” Yudof said. “But he blew it in 1998, in the context in which the NCAA self-report misrepresented the underlying situation, in my judgment.”
Moving on
Haskins’ $1.5 million buyout could be challenged if it was fraudulently induced, something the University is considering, Yudof said.
However, University lawyers have told Yudof such a case would be difficult.
As for NCAA funding wrongfully gained when ineligible University players participated in tournaments, Yudof said he does not know how much the University might owe.
Brown, Yudof’s chief of staff, will meet with the NCAA to determine how much and how far back the University must go in deciding the forfeiture. But the entire cost of the scandal, including contract buyouts and investigation costs, has already reached into the millions.
Pending Board of Regents’ approval, Brown will also step into a new vice president of administration position in December. She would manage internal administration, evaluate chancellors and deans, handle grievances and oversee athletics.
“She’s someone I trust,” Yudof said of Brown, who served as assistant dean under Yudof at the University of Texas-Austin’s Law School.
“She’s sharp. She’s smart. She’s honest. She’s close to me. She’s thorough,” he said. “I don’t doubt for a moment that she’d turn me in if I did something wrong.”
Recruiting an interim men’s athletics director to replace Dienhart will be one of Brown’s responsibilities, although Yudof will help.
As for cheating at the University, Yudof said faculty and staff members whose academic misconduct surfaced in the investigation will be dealt with individually.
But Yudof said he will also address the issue of cheating as a whole — considering policies and procedures that encourage and empower professors and students to report wrongdoing.
“Anything that will work, I’m pretty much in favor of it,” Yudof said.
But scandals such as this one, and others like the ALG case that rocked the University’s Medical School in the early 1990s, will happen at any large institution over a period of time, Yudof said.
You can’t stamp them out completely, he said. But you can be vigilant for departments that are receiving too much deference — whether the surgery department or the men’s basketball program.
This scandal sent a warning to the University, Yudof said.
“In your enthusiasm to support great work, you don’t bend the rules, and you don’t stop looking,” he said. “The joy of the moment … is when you have to be the most on guard.”
Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3211.