Regents Respond to Report

The CU Board of Regents voted unanimously to accept the Independent Investigative Commission's 53-page report on Wednesday concerning a culture of sex and alcohol at CU and recruiting practices by the Buffaloes football team. However, most of the comments made by the seven regents made it unclear if they'll heed the thrust of the IIC's report, which was highly critical of CU's leadership.

The IIC was formed in March at the request of the regents. Their report, released Tuesday, called for changes in several areas of administration and policy at CU, and sharply criticized what it called a failure in communication among CU athletic director Dick Tharp and CU chancellor Richard Byyny about the "recruiting problems" over the past several years. The report also criticized head football coach Gary Barnett, and wondered if he, along with Tharp and Byyny, was capable to effect change from here on out.

The IIC also urged the regents to "evaluate whether (CU president Elizabeth) Hoffman can provide the leadership and vision needed to restore the University's integrity and reputation." The regents have authority to fire the CU president, but are not directly involved in other personnel matters below that position.

But once most of the regents got past the niceties of the meeting — words of congratulations and gratitude for the IIC's work — most of them voiced confidence in the current leadership, which the IIC so strongly criticized.

"We've been investigated, and investigated and investigated, and that continues today," said regent Jerry Rutledge. "I say as of today, enough is enough. Let's go forward. If we need a scapegoat, go look in the mirror, because all of us certainly could have done more. Let's look forward, let's look to the opportunity to make this university the model of both a great research university, with a great athletic program.

"Without any doubt we have great leaders here, including President Hoffman, Chancellor Byyny, Director Tharp and Coach Barnett," Rutledge continued. "I think they all need an opportunity to right the ship. It's time to get behind them."

His comments drew the only spontaneous applause from members of the audience, which numbered between 150 and 200.

Regent Jim Martin was the lone voice that seemed to challenge his fellow board members as well as the current leadership at CU.

"The issue is whether or not the university is capable and committed to providing the leadership to effect the profound changes in culture and structure and reporting systems at the university," Martin said.

The regent went beyond talking about the culture of sex and alcohol that was outlined in the IIC report, and which was referenced several times Wednesday. He called for profound change in the culture among the CU administration, one he said was defined by "ignoring" and "denying" problems, as well as one of "arrogance."

Though Martin stopped short of calling for anyone's job, he hinted at where he thought some of the problems stemmed from when he asked the IIC about their characterization of Tharp. The IIC report claims that people told the commission that "Tharp was heard on more than one occasion saying that coaches had to maintain a façade of ‘plausible deniability' – a term commonly understood to mean a purposeful lack of documentation." In essence, the IIC criticized Tharp for fostering a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"We have to ask ourselves as a board, can we get that profound cultural change with the present personnel," Martin said. "That is now the fundamental issue."

Regent Tom Lucero called on the NCAA to "step up and take responsibility for the fact that they are running a big business." Martin joined in the criticism and said the university presidents need to "take back the NCAA."

Lucero also broached a subject that has until recently been simmering under the surface — that of how race plays a factor within the athletic department, the university and the largely white Boulder community.

Other regents simply called for a time of healing within the university community. However, judging by the reaction of some in the audience, the political battle lines that have come into sharp focus since the issue exploded in February are still drawn, and the fractious fighting between various parts of the university is far from over.

At the end of the one-hour public meeting, a CU sociology professor, Joanne Belknap, jumped to her feet and asked that everyone who was in attendance to support "the victims" to stand. A dozen or so people quickly stood, then several CU parents and others in attendance followed, a move that underscored their consistent call for justice for any victims of sexual assault at the hands of football players or otherwise at CU. Nine allegations of sexual assault have been leveled at football players or recruits since 1997. No charges have ever been brought, and most recently two players have been cleared through DNA testing in one case.

But following the meeting, Belknap was joined by Regina Cowles, head of the Boulder chapter of the National Organization of Women, and Janine D'Anniballe, executive director of Moving to End Sexual Assault, a Boulder victims' advocacy group, in denouncing the vote of confidence in the CU brass that most of the regents voiced Wednesday.

"This is a pep rally to say, ‘Thanks, Commission. We really didn't want an honest report,'" said Belknap.

Cowles added, "Profound change means the immediate firing of the coach and the athletic director, and consideration of firing of the chancellor, and that the president of this university get a grip on the problem."

D'Anniballe, who testified before the IIC last month, said, "What message is this that these people are not going to be held accountable? The message is that people can rape on this campus, if the victims come forward they are going to be vilified, they are going to be treated incredibly poorly. What victim is going to come forward if things don't change?"

Last week, the Colorado state attorney's office issued a statement that said his office would not charge anyone in the various cases, citing a lack of evidence and, in some cases, out of respect for the wishes of the alleged victims. The Boulder district attorney has declined to press any charges of sexual misconduct an any allegations due to lack of evidence.

Later Wednesday, members of the IIC spoke to reporters. They seemed surprised that the regents voiced such strong support for the leadership that the IIC had criticized.

"Change starts from the top," said commissioner Philip H. Porter Jr. "Some (personnel) changes are going to be necessary."

Commissioner Luis Rovira said, "There were lots of words, but not much substance," when asked his opinion of the regents meeting.

And commissioner Jacqueline St. Joan cut to the chase: "I don't know if the board of regents has the will to make changes."

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