udof speaks out on academic scandal

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The following is part one of an exclusive one-on-one interview with University President Mark Yudof. Today’s topics revolve around athletics — the pride and bane of the University during the past few years.
When Yudof arrived from the University of Texas in 1997, nobody knew a tutor named Jan Gangelhoff, and men’s basketball head coach Clem Haskins was riding high on a recent trip to the Final Four.
One academic misconduct scandal later, Yudof has been forced to make some unpopular and difficult decisions.
He discusses his decisions and his critics.

Q: Is there a “Good Old Boys” network at the University? One instance last year suggests there is: Several Gophers boosters threw former (Men’s) Athletics Director Mark Dienhart a going-away party and gave him a brand-new car, even though he was fired as a result of the worst academic scandal in University history.
A: I’d rather use my own words. Most parts of the University have their own culture. I come from a law school and I can tell you that they do. I think athletics departments do. They have their own ways of coping and sometimes they are too isolated from the rest of the University.
In Mark Dienhart’s case, I don’t know if “Good Old Boys” are the right words. There is a network of boosters and they were very appreciate of Mr. Dienhart. The University did not sponsor it. The University couldn’t tell them not to give him a car. Their friendships obviously were deep and extended beyond whatever action the University took. I don’t view that as a University problem. We didn’t sponsor it. We didn’t participate in it. Am I going to condemn it? I’m not. That really is a question for the friends of Mark Dienhart. I guess I don’t see this pattern of whatever you want to call it. People leave the University; sometimes their friends honor them.
They were fans. They weren’t here at the University. When it’s done privately, I’m not sure what the University should do. I didn’t feel it was my place to condemn the fact that some long-time friends of Dienhart were still supportive. Many of them thought I made the wrong judgment to fire him.
I made the judgment I made.
Q: Last year, Gophers football coach Glen Mason took the team to its first bowl game in 13 years. He then interviewed for the head coaching vacancy at Louisiana State University. The University got scared and signed Mason to a $1 million-a-year contract. After former basketball coach Clem Haskins left, you said there would never be another “power” coach at the University. But didn’t Mason prove he was a “power” coach by getting what he wanted?
A: Actually, there were lots of people interested in Glen Mason. He’s a very hot coach.
To me a power coach says, “This is my program, everybody stays away from it and I make the decisions. I’ll tell you what’s good for the program and I’ll take care of everything.” And the normal administrative chain of command is somehow disarmed. That is totally unsatisfactory.
To pay a lot of money to have an outstanding coach because that’s what the market requires is fine, but you still have to obey the rules. If you look at Mason’s contract, it’s very distant from a Clem Haskins contract. Yes, both men were paid a lot of money, but look at the clauses in Glen’s contract about what the standards will be on academic integrity and NCAA violations and so forth. I took some criticism in the media because people naturally assume that anyone that is competitive and gets paid a lot of money must be a power coach. Power coach did have a specific meaning — someone who paid no attention to the athletics director, did his own thing, and the regular rules of the University and the academic enterprise did not apply. I’m just not going to stand for that.
And to Glen’s credit, it is a major part of his contract. We spent as much time working out those performance levels off the field as we did the terms of compensation. We would have been a lot better off if we would have had a similar contract with Haskins.
Q: You’re a lawyer. Was the Haskins $1.5 million contract buyout a mistake?
A: I don’t think so. There’s this “Garage Logic” type of thinking. I call it “Garbage Logic.” This boils down to a question of the evidence. I’ll tell you exactly the way I felt about it. I felt the man needed to leave the program. I felt the people of Minnesota would never have confidence in him regardless of his ultimate responsibility. I looked at the evidence. If we fire this man for good cause, do we have it? I taught contract law and I had plenty of labor lawyers to advise me. Garage Logic or not, there was insufficient evidence at that time.
It wasn’t always a pretty picture — he sent Gangelhoff to Hawaii and all that. (Editor’s note: Haskins wrote a personal check for $1,050 to a charter company so Gangelhoff could accompany the team to Hawaii in 1995.) But if I had to face a judge and a jury, and the judge said, “Mr. Yudof, you have to prove Mr. Haskins actually knew of his violations, what’s your proof?” Garage Logic stands up and says, I know he did it, but that’s not good enough. I feared that if we fired him for good cause, he would file a lawsuit and might even get reinstated. Because it’s a question of evidence and not what sportswriters think. At that point, we had very little evidence.
Many of the most crucial pieces of evidence did not appear until the end of October 1999. Those pieces of evidence relate to what Coach Haskins told the team in Seattle and also later on when he admitted to the NCAA that he cashed a check to pay Gangelhoff.
Can you imagine if I had fired one of the most popular coaches in our history and two days later he was reinstated by a state court, and he was busily suing us for damages along the way? I wonder what Garage Logic would have had to say about that. On the other hand, if I had done nothing, the confidence of the University would have eroded. As it turned out, I didn’t receive the report until the day before the regular season started. So there would be a great moment for the University, as the night before the first game, I would dismiss every coach and the head coach of the basketball program. It seemed to me to be much better to buy him out.
But that depended on certain representations from him that turned out not to be true. I think it’s nice Monday morning quarterbacking. I admire some of these commentators who feel they are such great lawyers that they feel they could have persuaded a judge and jury, but I don’t believe it.
Q: A lot of people have interpreted the buyout several different ways. How do you interpret it?
A: It’s called a merger clause; it’s in every contract. What it means is that oral representations and promises are superseded by the contract itself. That’s all it means. Any misrepresentation to sign the contract — that is, fraudulent inducement and misrepresentation — supersedes that clause. So, it’s true that we had an agreement orally two days before and then we signed the contract. The contract supersedes the oral agreement of two days earlier.
But if in reaching the contract there were material misrepresentations then the law is that the clause has no impact whatsoever, that’s all admissible evidence. That’s not the problem with the contract. The contract really doesn’t have a problem.
One issue is: Were there material misrepresentations? If there were, then we’re entitled to our money back. Second, did he violate the promise to cooperate with the investigation, subsequent to the contract? The merger-clause issue has risen from quite amateurish media lawyering.
Q: Is the University suing Haskins to save face?
A: No. I’m suing to get my money back.
Q: What chance do you think there is of getting anything back?
A: We have a very good chance. You have to remember that a half million dollars of it was his anyhow because it was deferred compensation. I think we have a very good chance.
Q: Flashback to March 10, 1999. The basketball scandal hits hard a day before the NCAA tournament begins. What did you say to your wife when you came home?
A: I guess what caught me flat-footed about it, being a law professor, is if someone makes allegations, you put together the investigative team and the chips fall and you take action against the people who did wrong.
I never dreamed it would have the salience that it did. That it would be absolutely front page for months and months. That’s what I think I commented to my spouse, I said, “I knew they were going to run the story, but I didn’t expect a headline as large as the one for Pearl Harbor in 1941.” It was my naivete.
I just didn’t realize the passions that would be aroused about it and what type of media coverage it would get.

The Daily Interview continues Tuesday when Yudof discusses student housing, faculty and staff pay rates and his vision for the University.

Craig Gustafson welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3222. He can also be reached at [email protected]