Dienhart, Boston defend conduct code

by Jim Martyka

and Joel Sawyer

Amid reports of violations of the University’s student-athlete conduct code, top athletics administrators stood by the code in a statement issued Thursday.
But both McKinley Boston, vice president for Student Development and Athletics, and Mark Dienhart, men’s athletics director, said in the release that they will revise ambiguous language in the code, particularly that dealing with players facing “accusations.”
“The policy was never meant to be a rush to judgment,” said Dienhart in his statement. “We do not — and cannot — discipline a player on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.”
The statements were prompted by a Thursday Star Tribune article that suggested men’s athletics department officials did not follow their own guidelines in dealing with several incidents involving University basketball players.
Among these was an August incident in which sophomore player Courtney James allegedly slapped a woman. In April, James was arrested and suspended from the team after reportedly hitting another woman in the face with a phone book.
Other reports include allegations that two other players pressured women into having sex. However, the only player arrested and charged in any of these instances was James.
The code, which was implemented in 1992, states that student-athletes who are “arrested or accused of violating the law or the personal rights of others will be suspended from their involvement in all team activity immediately upon discovery of such allegation or accusation.”
Men’s athletics department officials say the wording of the code, particularly the use of the word “accused,” is narrowly interpreted by the athletics department. They say it applies only when the person in question has been arrested and charged or had accusations substantiated by the police.
“To us, under this policy an accusation is clearly (something) that the police determine is a valid accusation and the accusation takes place in the criminal system,” said Jeff Schemmel, senior associate athletics director in the men’s athletics department, in an interview last month.
“If we were to act on every allegation or accusation, and they proved to be false, we would lay ourselves open to considerable (legal) liability,” Schemmel added.
Both Boston and Dienhart said they will revise the wording in the code to avoid further confusion over interpretation.
“Mark (Dienhart) and I have agreed to make sure the language of the policy matches both our intent and the way it has been successfully applied in the past,” Boston said.
Men’s athletics department officials said the code, which they consider strict, has been consistently enforced since its implementation.
Other University administrators also stood by the department’s handling of such issues.
“If anybody is aware of a violation, of course they should take it to the proper authorities,” said University President Nils Hasselmo at a media briefing Wednesday. “But people are taking appropriate steps to take care of things.”