At a time when Rutgers University should be finding ways to make an impact in its new conference, the Big Ten, the school is instead trying to right the ship that is sinking amid many controversies and allegations over the past two months.
Former Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice came under fire April 3 when ESPN aired Rutgers practice videos showing him verbally and physically abusing players. Following the firing of Rice, Tim Pernetti, the man responsible for the university’s celebrated move to the Big Ten, resigned as Rutgers’ athletic director.
To replace Pernetti, Julie Hermann was hired May 15 to clean up the Rutgers athletic program. Hermann was previously the No. 2 athletic administrator at the University of Louisville. Hermann, however, has also found herself in controversy. The Newark Star-Ledger reported that Hermann quit as the University of Tennessee women’s volleyball coach 16 years ago after her players submitted a letter complaining that she abused the team emotionally and caused fear and humiliation.
The players wrote in the letter, “The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable.” The letter, submitted by all 15 team members, went on to say that Hermann called them “whores, alcoholics and learning-disabled.”
“It has been unanimously decided that this is an irreconcilable issue,” the women added in the letter. In the report, the players told The Star-Ledger that Hermann’s response was, “I choose not to coach you guys.”
Hermann has denied the allegations, saying, “It’s absolutely not true that I referred to them with any name-calling like that. That’s not part of my vocabulary.”
Hermann proceeded to say, “Am I an intense coach? Absolutely, as many coaches are. There’s a big canyon between being super intense and abuse. This was not an abusive environment. Was it challenging? Yes. It was incredibly challenging. Was I aware players were unhappy? I was unaware by the end of the season. We had so many challenges with this group of women.”
The Star-Ledger asked Hermann about the players’ lingering grievances, to which she responded, “I never heard any of this, never name-calling them or anything like that whatsoever. None of this is familiar to me.”
Rutgers President Robert Barchi issued a vote of confidence for Hermann through a statement: “We remain confident that we have selected an individual who will work in the best interests of all of our student athletes, our athletics teams and the university.”
The vote of confidence came before The New York Times released a report May 28 of a lawsuit brought against Hermann while she was at the University of Louisville in 2008. According to the report, assistant track and field coach Mary Banker approached Hermann, who at that time was the senior athletic administrator at Louisville, about what she thought was sexist behavior and “discriminatory treatment” by head coach Ron Mann. After taking her concerns to human resources, Banker was fired within three weeks.
Hermann’s tenure as athletic director at Rutgers could come to an end before it barely even started. It will be interesting to see how the Scarlet Knights handle this scenario. They can choose to stand by Hermann; however, if allegations prove to be correct, they will be standing by the very type of individual they got rid of only two months ago in Mike Rice. The tragedy of the Hermann controversy is that Rutgers should have learned its lesson from the Mike Rice situation. Rutgers should have, at the very least, picked an individual with an unblemished record of caring for student-athletes.
The decision to hire Hermann seems rushed and poorly handled. It also reflects poorly on university President Robert Barchi. Rutgers is struggling to find the right answers as to whether to stand by Hermann or once again start the process of finding a new athletic director. Once the university decides who will lead the athletic program, the process of displaying the leadership that has been lacking there over the past few months will begin anew.