Athletics dept. gets mixed report

Investigations found the University’s athletics department mishandled finances and sexual harassment claims.

Chair of the Board of Regents Dean Johnson addresses fellow board members in the McNamara Alumni Center on Tuesday afternoon.

Joe Sulik

Chair of the Board of Regents Dean Johnson addresses fellow board members in the McNamara Alumni Center on Tuesday afternoon.

by Nick Wicker and Brian Edwards

Four months ago, former athletics director Norwood Teague admitted to sexually harassing two colleagues and resigned. 
On Tuesday, results of a $690,000 external investigation prompted by his departure were made public. The findings of an internal audit of the athletics department’s spending, which was catalyzed by Teague’s resignation, were also released. 
While the outside investigation did not find evidence to support claims of additional sexual harassment by Teague and other top administrators, it revealed concerns over alleged sexual harassment by student-athletes.
The internal audit found the department misspent money in violation of school rules. 
“The External Review Team did not find evidence to substantiate the allegations regarding sexual harassment by Teague or other senior leaders within the athletics department or a general climate of sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual conduct within the athletics department,” said the report conducted by attorneys from Fredrikson & Byron.
Investigators held that claims against Teague and former associate athletics director Mike Ellis were isolated from the rest of the department. 
When the findings of the report were presented to the Board of Regents in a meeting Tuesday, leaders expressed relief that the review found no evidence of a climate of misconduct. 
The external report and audit recommended steps for the University to avoid sexual harassment issues and prevent spending violations in the future. Specifically, investigators said the University needs to standardize sexual harassment training and reporting policies across all departments.
On Friday, University President Eric Kaler will present the board with implementation ideas based on the report, he said.
“I think the Teague resignation and harassment did tarnish the reputation of the University,” Kaler told reporters after Tuesday’s meeting. “I think the steps we’re taking today and the recommendations we’ll put in place will enhance that reputation.”
The report reviewed survey data and more than 250,000 pages of relevant documents, as well as interviews conducted with more than 100 people.
In those interviews, athletics department students and staff voiced differing opinions on the working environment under Teague. Some interviewees expressed distaste for his leadership style. Others said they had positive experiences and never witnessed sexual misconduct.
The team of external investigators also followed up with the 11 anonymous complaints filed after Teague’s resignation in August and found they were unsubstantiated.
The report’s release largely wipes the department’s slate clean, said attorney Karen Schanfield. 
Kaler said he hasn’t yet decided how the school will choose its new athletics director in early 2016, but he said he wants to consider bypassing a firm such as Parker
Executive Search, which helped the University select and hire Teague in 2012. 
“This report largely clears the University, and it largely clears Norwood Teague,” said Teague’s attorney, Bill O’Brien, in an emailed statement. “This should end, then, the months of false speculation about [Teague’s] conduct.”
Athletes harass
The external review revealed concerns over the department’s handling of alleged sexual harassment and assault by student-athletes. The investigators found the University did not use the proper avenues to discipline nine student-athletes who sexually harassed a former student in June.
In July, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action dealt with five complaints regarding student- athletes in relation to two allegations of sexual assault, two of sexual harassment and one of retaliation. 
The third-party investigators found the athletes harassed a female student and pressured her to “engage in sexual acts with them and then deliberately insulted, ridiculed and physically intimidated her when she refused their requests for sexual contact.”
They also found the EOAA failed to adequately deal with the issue fast enough and that there was enough evidence to punish at least some of the athletes involved.
Misuse of dept. funds
The financial audit of the athletics department revealed a troubling “tone at the top,” where leaders, including Teague, used department money for expensive hotels and first-class air travel, said Gail Klatt, associate vice president of the Office of Internal Audit.
In total, administrators insufficiently justified nearly 30 percent of purchases made with department money between 2012 and 2015. A smaller portion of those purchases were not verified with receipts.
Purchases criticized by the audit included overspending on personal meals, transportation, alcohol and lodging. 
All employees who still work with the department have repaid any of their unauthorized expenditures, but Teague and Ellis still owe the University $6,668.86 and $433.99, respectively, Klatt said. 
Board Chair Dean Johnson said while the misspent funds are troubling, they only represent a small part of the department’s more than $100 million budget.
“We’re talking about a fraction of a percent,” he said. 
Regent Darrin Rosha said he wants the board to consider harsher penalties, like firing, for unauthorized or lavish spending.
“If there’s not a significant level of accountability,” he said. “It doesn’t create much of an incentive for people to do the right thing with University resources, which ultimately come from students and the state.”