Friday, November 16, 2007

Trouble in River City

November 16, 2007, 8:00 a.m., 12:05 p.m.

Locker Room Update

What Can We Know, and When Can We Know It?

I discuss in the next section, below, issues surrounding the identity of the accuser and the accused. I respect, and support, the University's decision to make an effort to keep those names confidential at this point. I say "make an effort" because the names of the players are out there on the Internet for anyone who wants them, and I can't believe the name of the accuser is not well known among the hundreds of students residing in Hillcrest, and therefore by at least some enterprising reporters (though I may be wrong).

What I don't fully grasp are the reasons for refusing to respond to questions regarding the behavior, not of the athletes or their accuser, but of the University's and athletic program's administrators.

What did they know and when did they know it? What did they do about it? Did they comply with the procedures they themselves created for dealing with a situation like this? There are reports that the football coach told a sports reporter a couple of weeks ago that two of the players, now under investigation, had been dropped from the team (for reasons he did not disclose).

I'm not talking about revealing who by name came to them, or the content of any statements that were taken, or evidence obtained. I'm only suggesting that questions involving the integrity of the University's process need to be addressed, answered, and reported -- wholly independently of whatever does, or does not, come from the allegations now suspended in limbo regarding whatever did, or did not, occur on the evening of October 14.

If I'm wrong, if real harm would come to the players, or their accuser, or the integrity of a forthcoming trial would be compromised, by revealing what the administrators did and did not do that would be a persuasive reason for maintaining confidentiality regarding the details of administrative action or inaction.

If I'm right, I think the public deserves to know the answers and I can, offhand, see no reason why it can't know now. Indeed, if the responsible University officials went about whatever they did in a responsible, efficient and sensitive way, if they have nothing to be ashamed of, I would think they -- individually and as representatives of an institution -- would be substantially more advantaged by full disclosure rather than their current stonewalling strategy.

For the Press-Citizen's contribution to these issues in this morning's paper, see the discussion and quotations in the sub-head below, "Allocation of Administrative Responsibility."

Sean Keeler writes:

[T]he Hillcrest story has the kind of holes you could drive a truck through. No one's been arrested, let alone charged, but questions abound. If an incident allegedly occurred back on Oct. 14, why did it take three weeks for a report to be filed? How soon did Ferentz and his staff know about what might've transpired? How much did they know? What role did the upper levels of the Iowa administration play, if any?

Rumors linking certain Hawkeye players to a serious rhubarb of some kind had been floating for weeks, only to lay dormant while Iowa posted a three-game winning streak. . . .

"I think that if you ask any person representing a university, or corporation, or whatever entity it is," says Lapchick, director of the sports business management program at Central Florida. "If they had 10 percent of their employees, student-athletes or staff implicated in some form of activity that is designated as criminal, I would say, 'We've got to do something here.' "
Sean Keeler, "Ten (percent) sad number for Hawkeyes," Des Moines Register, November 16, 2007

Randy Peterson reports that Athletic Director Gary Barta characterizes these problems as "cyclical." Sounds kind of like the cicadas coming out of the ground every 17 years; not much you can do about it but wait for them to dig in again.

Anything more? Well, yes, he says "We'll double back and make sure we're educating." But as I noted yesterday ("Culling the Flock"), when a college freshman comes to campus with a record of anti-social and criminal behavior in high school, believing that "educating" him will eliminate the risk of continued problems in college is a real triumph of hope over experience -- as the recidivism rates in our prison system would seem to confirm.

As if that was not enough, consider the irony of Randy Peterson's noting,

Coincidentally, the alleged sexual assault against a female student is being investigated at the same time members of the Mentors In Violence Prevention group were on campus to speak to Iowa student-athletes about rape and sexual harassment.

"They were here this week," said Fred Mims, Iowa associate athletic director for student services and compliance. "Every year, we talk to our student-athletes about hazing and sexual harassment."
Randy Peterson, "Iowa football: Are Hawkeyes guilty of being out of control?," Des Moines Register, November 16, 2007.

Wouldn't you like for some enterprising reporter to find out, and report, just how much the University is paying "Mentors in Violence Prevention" for this annual service? What and where (other than from the firm's own promotional material) is the data regarding its effectiveness?

Privacy and the Press

The Register's decision to reveal names in its story yesterday raises some oft-debated issues of journalistic best practices, ethics -- and even defamation and privacy law.

On the one hand, the media may argue that it is the best check for the public -- investigating and providing information about both who is being investigated for what crimes in the community, as well as possible abuses of citizens' rights by law enforcement, or as in this instance, whether those with administrative responsibilities in the University and its athletic program handled the matter appropriately.

On the other hand, to name a potential accused (in this case someone being "investigated") -- before they've even been charged, let alone convicted -- clearly risks a significant adverse impact on their reputation in the event, as with the Duke Lacrosse players, they are subsequently not found guilty. At a minimum, it may taint a jury pool if a trial is ever held.

To report that someone is being investigated, if true, may not be sufficiently "false" to sustain an action for defamation. But given the popular inclination to assume that "where there's smoke there's fire" the impact on reputation may be almost indistinguishable from an assertion that "they did it."

For both similar and additional reasons, many publications (including the Register in this case) have a practice of not revealing the alleged victim's name. ((a)Publicizing a rape victim's name creates publicity and emotional stress sufficiently severe that it is sometimes characterized as "the second rape." (b) It clearly discourages reporting by others in the future. (c) It may create a real danger of future physical harm to the alleged victim. (d) And there is at least grounds for debate as to how essential it is to the story anyway.)

But even that rule is not always adhered to. Following the 1991 William Kennedy Smith case, the woman involved -- whose identity had been revealed by the press -- pleaded with NBC to change its policy of revealing rape victims' names. The network refused. Then NBC News President (now President of our Board of Regents) Michael Gartner was reported as responding, by way of defense of the policy, "the more we tell our viewers, the better informed they'll be in making up their own minds about the issues involved." USA Today, April 29, 1992, p. D3.

The Gazette explained this morning its policy regarding the failure to reveal the names of the players:

No arrests have been made, but rumors swirled about the alleged perpetrators’ and victim’s identities. Some media reported names connected to the assault. The Gazette has chosen not to reveal them until more about their possible involvement is clear.

“We’ve been asked not to comment as long as the investigation is active,” UI spokesman Steve Parrott added.

Thursday, UI students reacted with the most tempered emotion — caution.

“I don’t really know how much evidence they have against (the players). Their names are out there for a sexual assault. That seems kind of harsh,” said Meg Konzelman, a freshman from Joliet, Ill., who knows one of the players who was questioned.
Scott Dochterman and Jennifer Hemmingsen, "Warrant sealed in UI sex assault; Rumors about roles of players consume campus community," The Gazette, November 17, 2007, p. A1.

Allocation of Administrative Responsibility:
"You have to respect the athletics director's opinion . . . and trust that person"

Ashton Shurson wrote last June 26,

When UI President Sally Mason accepted her new position last week, she made sure to demonstrate her support for Iowa sports by shouting "Go Hawks."

But just cheering on the team isn't enough for the president -- both the president and the athletics department work together to make sure the department runs smoothly.

"It's the front porch to the university," said UI interim President Gary Fethke. "Many people view the university through the eyes of athletics."

Although the athletics department functions primarily on its own, the university president and Athletics Director Gary Barta meet regularly and make decisions about sports together.

But before partnerships begin, a president must hire the director -- which Fethke considers "the most important thing a president can do."

. . .

"My job is to make sure there are no surprises for the president," Barta said.

. . .

"You have to respect the athletics director's opinion and point of view and trust that person," Fethke said.
Ashton Shurson, "Mason, Barta Set to Work Together," The Daily Iowan, June 26, 2007.

This morning's Press-Citizen quotes the UI President as saying, "Yes, I'm confident that [Barta] has the right values and that the integrity of our athletics department is uppermost in his mind." Brian Morelli, "Mason Backs Officials' Response; Officials Not Saying if Protocols Were Followed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 16, 2007, p. A1.

Is this an example of what is meant by "respect the athletics director's opinion . . . and trust that person"?

Morelli's lead is: "[T]he University of Iowa is not saying whether officials have followed the proper internal procedures . . .." He notes that no UI officlal has been willing to answer the paper's questions, including: "Did the victim or the football players report the alleged assault to other UI officials before it was reported to police?"

Clearly, confidence in Barta's "values" and his concern for his department's "integrity" is far from a response to that question.

At least UI Police Director Charles Green and Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness have had the candor to acknowledge that they "absolutely were not aware of the incident until the victim reported it to our department on Nov. 7" (Green), and were "notified of the incident last week" (Lyness).

The Press-Citizen also provides links to the relevant University documents:

Initial Notification Procedures for Student Athlete Incidents

Resouce and Referral Options for Victims of Sexual Assault

Sexual Harassment or Assault Action Steps

Not incidentally, given that we are told "
the president and the athletics department work together," though I may have missed something I don't see that any of these three documents include the UI president anywhere in the chain of reporting.

Aside from that, the procedures do seem to be pretty clear. Were they followed? And why are all of those who are in a position to know the answer to that question not talking?

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