Inquiry examines assault claims

Sarah McKenzie

University President Mark Yudof broadened the men’s athletics investigation Friday after newspaper reports alleged University officials repeatedly influenced criminal sexual misconduct investigations involving athletes.
Athletics officials intervened in at least six claims of sexual harassment and assault involving men’s basketball and football players between 1993 to 1997, the Star Tribune reported Friday.
The accusations have prompted students to organize a protest today in front of Morrill Hall at noon.
Reports allege that McKinley Boston, vice president for Student Development and Athletics, pressured a female student and tutor to change her story after a football player allegedly masturbated in front of her.
Yudof said Boston has denied discouraging women from coming forward with claims against athletes.
“(Boston) says that the stories that involve him are not true,” Yudof said.
Boston could not be reached for comment.
The president said he expects a report detailing the findings of the new investigation by July 1.
Don Lewis, a Minneapolis attorney who is also looking into the allegations of academic fraud, and Julie Sweitzer, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity & Affirmative Action, will head the investigation.
Yudof said he wants investigators to answer the following question: “Is there a pattern or system in men’s athletics that systematically tries to discourage, dissuade, coerce or cajole women from filing grievances?”
If that answer is yes, the president said the implications for the University are very serious.
“I’m not going to tolerate this,” Yudof said. “We need to make sure the culture of athletics is the same as the rest of the University.”

Students react to allegations
Some students said they plan to protest what they call mishandling of the sexual assault cases by University officials. On Friday, the protest organizers demanded that officials stop protecting student-athletes at the expense of other students.
In an open letter sent to the president and other administrators on Friday, the students called for the following:
ù A full investigation of all acts of sexual assault and sexual harassment;
ù An end to victim blaming by University officials;
ù The establishment of a more effective system to prevent official misconduct;
ù A public apology to the alleged victims.
Erin Ferguson, former Minnesota Student Association vice president, said administrators seemed to be watching out for each other rather than the students.
“It felt really inappropriate how the department of Student Development and Athletics was handling this,” said Ferguson. “Students are angry.”
Ferguson and former MSA president Nikki Kubista canceled a traditional photo shoot with Boston in a letter on Friday. An expression of the close relationship between MSA and administration, the photo would have hung in Morrill Hall alongside similar photos from years past.
“We don’t know who to trust anymore,” said Rebecca Dreke, one of the protest organizers. “I’m feeling betrayed by the University administration and officials. They’re protecting athletes and not the rest of us.”
The protest was organized by the University Young Women and the Gender Liberation Action Front. Members of the Program Against Sexual Violence are also involved.
“We want to show the administration and University officials that we’re not going to be quiet about this. We’re not going to let things keep going like this,” Dreke said. “These cases need and deserve investigation rather than being covered up.”
Ferguson said she hopes that at least 100 students will attend the demonstration.
Campus police role questioned
The allegation that campus police have cooperated with athletic officials in a number of criminal investigations struck a nerve in the University Police Department on Friday.
Several officers and police administrators voiced concern that the newspaper reports of unethical police conduct are overstated. Others commented that the investigators who reportedly collaborated with the athletics department are no longer working with the campus police.
University Police investigators have been accused of negotiating agreements with men’s athletics officials in order to divert athletes from prosecution.
Men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins and former men’s football coach Jim Wacker have also reportedly made claims that the campus police department has routinely discriminated against black athletes.
Former University Police Chief Joy Rikala, who led the department during the years of alleged impropriety, could not be reached for comment.
“I’m concerned how the University Police Department has been portrayed,” Lt. Mike Listul said, who has worked with the campus police for 29 years. “We certainly do not consult with anyone on how we should proceed with our cases.”
Lt. Steve Johnson, acting police chief, said athletes are not treated differently in police investigations, adding that it is difficult to determine which officers were involved in the alleged misconduct.
“I would hope people would judge us on what we are doing now,” he said.
Most current police officers have been supportive of sexual assault victims, said University students Nikki Wright and Rebecca Dreke, who are also victim advocates for the Program Against Sexual Violence.
Retired University Police Sgt. Joe May, who headed investigations from 1995 to last January, said he has never known an officer to downplay a sexual assault if the suspect was an athlete.
Athletics officials often complained that the department was too aggressive in pursuing charges against athletes, May said.
“We got complaints from them that we were coming down heavier on them than we should have because they were athletes and because they were a minority group,” he said.
He noted that officers routinely called athletics officials if an athlete was under criminal investigation.
“If it didn’t jeopardize the investigation, I would call and tell them, ‘Hey, you have a guy under investigation right now,'” he said. “And many times, that would result in this guy just all of a sudden being dismissed (from the team).”
As the investigation unfolds, Yudof’s chief of staff Tonya Moten Brown speculated that the systems in place to handle sexual assault cases and other grievances might be overhauled.