Share |

Under Fire, Barchi Stands by His Embattled Choice For Rutgers Athletic Director

Julie Hermann to Take Office June 17, But Critics Are Already Calling For Her Ouster
Julie Hermann and Bob Barchi
Julie Hermann shakes the hand of Rutgers President Robert Barchi after concluding a press conference where she accepted the job. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—After videos of Mike Rice bullying the Rutgers men's basketball team became public on April 2, Tim Pernetti was forced to resign from his position as the Rutgers Athletic Director.

Six weeks later, Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi and an enormous committee hedged over the final choice of who would replace Pernetti, a university alum and popular personality.

The school was forced to cancel a planned announcement on May 14, when an "executive" search committee deadlocked 3-3 in its vote for who to recommend. 

But the following day, Barchi announced Julie Hermann as the new leadership of a $64 million athletics department facing many challenges.

"Julie is quite simply a remarkable leader and she is precisely the person we need to continue to build and strengthen Rutgers athletics," he said as he introduced Hermann, the first woman to serve as Rutgers athletics director since the job was created in 1932.

Barchi touted Hermann, the longtime second-in-command in the athletic department at the University of Louisville as "the ideal candidate to lead the Scarlet Knights in the pivotal years ahead," at the news conference in the Rutgers Visitor's Center in Piscataway.

She is poised to become one of just a handful of women leading major sport programs.  Having been involved in college athletics as a player, coach, or administrator for more than 30 years, this would be the first time in her career that she would be working as an athletic director.

Hermann is set to begin her new job on June 17, which will pay her $450,000 annually as a base salary with $50,000 in potential incentives for meeting academic and athletic performance goals, $35,000 contributed to a deferred compensation plan, and use of a vehicle.

But, with the athletic department still dealing with the aftermath of Rice's abuse, Hermann is now the target of heavy criticism for accusations she treated her own players harshly when she coached the women's volleyball team at University of Tennessee.

PLAYER ABUSE ALLEGATIONS NOT INVESTIGATED BY SEARCH TEAM
A letter written in protest by her entire team in 1996-97 season that said Hermann was unbearable as a coach, and regularly called her players"whores, alcoholics, and learing disabled."  She left the University of Tennessee six months later after being transferred to an administrative position.

"Julie has succeeded in tearing our team apart," read the letter, obtained by the Star-Ledger.  "From the first day or preseason, it has been her intention to pit us against one another."

"It's been unanimously decided that this was an irreconcilable issue," reads the letter.

Hermann quit the coaching job of her own accord, but her terse resignation only came after the letter against her, signed by all fifteen team members, was read aloud during a meeting in athletic director Joan Cronan's office.

"My recollection of the time Julie was at the University of Tennessee is that it was a very frustrating time for everyone connected with the volleyball program, which had performed far below our expectations," said Joan Cronan, a former Tennessee Women's Athletics Director said yesterday in a statement.

"However, I do not recall it being an abusive situation."

Hermann admitted in her introductory remarks that Rutgers needed to begin a "healing process," the same phrase used by new basketball coach Eddie Jordan in remarks he made when being introduced as Mike Rice's replacement.

"The healing process starts from the inside-out.  It starts with staff, it starts with coaches," Hermann said at her introductory press conference.

"These are the people that were so deeply affected by what took place because, while they were not responsible, it splashed all over them. So we’re going to get together as an athletic department about who weare and how we stand and how we operate. We’ll take that message out to all the people who care about Rutgers athletics."

Hermann announced during the new conference Wednesday that all team practices would be an “open book”.

"We will no longer have any practice anywhere, anytime that anybody couldn’t walk into and be pleased about what is going on in that environment," said Herman.

"It is a new day.  It is already fixed.  And there is no one that doesn't agree about how we treat young people with respect and dignity and build trust... I believe Rutgers will quickly become best practices at this because we want to say to the parents of Amreica because that will never happen again at this prestigious fantastic campus."

Meanwhile, an all-too-familiar media circus has again descended on the Rutgers campus over the Memorial Day weekend.  But Barchi stuck by Hermann,

On CNN Monday night, journalist Anderson Cooper interviewed a Kelly Hanlon Dow, a former student-athlete from Hermann's volleyball team.

"She was very open with calling us whores and alcoholics and learning disalbed, just like the Star-Ledger mentions and the just like the letter mentions," Dow said.

"I never understood the motivation when she was screaming at us and calling us names."

PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT COST FORMER EMPLOYER $150,000
"When we get to a point where it's not working, I'm not an ambush-firing person," Hermann told the crowd at her hiring press conference.

"If it's not going well, no one is confused about that," Julie Hermann said as she wrapped up an answer to a reporter's question, just before she was asked the most difficult question she would get that day.

Her roles in two different lawsuits filed against colleges where she worked have come under newfound scrutiny in the ensuing weeks.  But one case, where Hermann was accused of firing a subordinate for getting pregnant later ended up in a court of law, and her employer lost.

Under questioning from NBC New York's Brian Thompson, Hermann was caught in lies about the lawsuit where she was captured on video warning the subordinate not too have children too quickly.

Ginger Hineline, an assistant coach on the Tennessee volleyball teach, was fired less than a year later, four months into a pregnancy.

That case was reported on in a 1997 issue of Sports Illustrated:

Shortly after getting married in June 1994, Tennessee assistant women's volleyball coach Ginger Hineline told her boss, head coach Julie Herman, that she wanted to start a family right away. According to Hineline, Herman's response was to discourage her from getting pregnant. "I asked, 'Does this mean it might come down to [not] having a baby or losing my job?' " recalls Hineline. "She said, 'It might.' "

Turns out it did. In January 1995, just as Hineline was entering the fourth month of her pregnancy, Tennessee fired her. In a U.S. district court in Knoxville on June 4, a seven-member jury deliberated 2½ hours on Hineline's suit against the University of Tennessee before awarding her a $150,000 judgment...

Herman also made some curious remarks during a video recording of Hineline's wedding, including, "We don't want any surprises come February.... It would be hard to have a baby in the office." There were no indications of bad performance in Hineline's record. "You shouldn't be discriminated against based on pregnancy," says Hineline, whose daughter, Paige, turned two on June 15. "In college coaching they can terminate you at will, but they can't fire you because you've decided to have a baby."

Tennessee is one of only six universities in the nation with a separate department for women's athletics. It's hard to think of a setback more embarrassing than Hineline's suit for a school that has been at the forefront of gender equity in college sports.

Yet, Rutgers 26-member athletic director search team, and the Atlanta-based search firm that was paid $70,000 to manage the hiring initative, were largely unaware of the publicized litigation that forced Hermann's ex-employer to pay $150,000 to Hineline.

The Star-Ledger reported that Hermann was not asked about the case during four interviews for the AD position.

But the day her hiring was announced, NBC New York's Brian Thompson, when asked to comment on the report at her introductory press conferenc was ready with a question about the lawsuit.

Thompson asked, "Could you address this report from 1997 in Sports Illustrated... alleging that there was a video in which you were caught saying, 'We don't want any surprises come February, it would be hard to have a baby in the office, and then that she quoted you as saying 'You could be fired' and then she won a $150,000 settlement?"

"There's a video?  I'm sorry, did you say there's a video?" Hermann asked.

"They referenceed to a video, a wedding video, in which you may have said that," Thompson responded.

"Okay," Hermann began with a nervous chuckle.  "There's no video, trust me... I've been managing people for twenty-five years... hundreds of student-athletes and coaches, and unfortunately there's occasion where some of those dialogues end up being litigated."

"While I do not agree with the outcome," Hermann continued, "it's already been litigated and there's really nothing else to comment on."

"It did not happen the way that it was described in the article?" Thompson pressed.

"I'm not familiar with the article.  I'm not familiar with what you read to me," she told Thompson, who stood strong.

"Can I read it to you?" the veteran reporter asked.  Hermann complied.

"She was quoted in the article as saying... 'Does it mean it might come down to not having a baby or losing my job?'...  And she quoted you as saying 'It might.'" Thompson said.

"I'm not familiar with that whatsoever," Hermann responded.

Less than two weeks later, it was the Newark Star-Ledger that released a video from the 1994 wedding video, which depiect Hermann catching a bouquet at the wedding she initially denied attending under scrutiny from the state's largest newspaper.  On Saturday night, the Ledger's Carl Wolff broke the story:

"I hope it's good tonight," [Hermann] says into the camera. "Because I know you've been waiting for a while, but I hope it's not too good, because I don't want you to come back February with any surprises, you know, the office and all, and it would be hard to have a baby in there."

Near the end of the video, Hineline throws the wedding bouquet, and Hermann is the one who catches it.

"The wedding?" Hermann said in an interview two days after her news conference. "Was I at her wedding? They eloped? I don't even remember that, honestly. It doesn't mean it didn't happen. It's just, it's been so long for me. I can't picture standing at her wedding, unfortunately." 

Barchi said when he met Hermann, it was clear that she shared his "perspectives on the  key principles for Rutgers athletics," including "absolute integrity and transparency" and "commitment to the unviersity's core values a deep concern for our student-athletes, both in the classroom and on the playing field."

SOME STILL CALL FOR PERNETTI'S RETURN TO POWER
As Pernetti was forced out after standing by his decision to fine and suspend, rather than fire basketball coach Mike Rice, a contingent of fans and athletes came together to support Pernetti.

Former players such as former Rutgers star running back Ray Rice, joined the chorus in defense of Pernetti as pressure mounted on the athletic director.

Rice said in a statement to the Star-Ledger, "Could Pernetti have done more? I think so. But this is one decision."

"This is a man who has done so much for Rutgers," the Super Bowl champion continued. "The right guy [Rice] is gone! Now we need to start the healing process."

Former Rutgers and NFL center, Shaun O'Hara tweeted in defense of Tim Pernetti, "All this fire Pernetti talk is getting my Irish up. I would trust Tim to raise my unborn son. #RU board of gov don't screw this up #Rfamily."

Even as Pernetti fell on his sword, Governor Chris Christie showed compassion for the former Athletic Director in a statement released via Twitter:

The decision today by Athletic Director Tim Pernetti to resign is appropriate and necessary given the events of the past 6 months. I commend Pres. Barchi for his decisive leadership in coming to an agreement w/ Mr. Pernetti to have Rutgers come under new leadership.

This entire incident was regrettable and while it has damaged the reputation of our state University, we need to move forward to provide great opportunities for the future of Rutgers.  I want to thank Tim Pernetti for his many contributions to @RutgersU and for taking responsibility for his role in this difficult episode.

Pernetti's settlement package consisted of $1.2 million in salary that he would have earned had he finished out his contract, as well as a car allowance, health insurance for two years, and an iPad.

The efforts of his supporters appeared unsuccessful in saving his job, but even after his resigation, the movement to bring him back persisted, and has gained new supporters in response to the allegations against Hermann.

Ray Lesniak, a controversial State Senator from Union County, called for Pernetti and former Rutgers President Richard McCormick to be restored to their old positions.

Former Governor and current State Senator from Essex County Richard Codey told the Star-Ledger, "She’s a flat-out liar... It's not even close.  It’s an embarrassment that the president of the university would back up someone like this.”

AFTER BARCHI BACKS HERMANN, ANOTHER LAWSUIT REVEALED
Pressure mounted against Hermann over the three-day weekend, with multiple state legislators calling for her resignation, and others calling for Barchi's as well.

Additionally, prominent donors and supporters of the athletics program expressed serious concerns about Hermann's ability to lead the program through the difficult days ahead.

After a day of silence, University media relations said Monday afternoon that the school's leaders were standing by Hermann, releasing statements by both Barchi and Hermann.

First, came Barchi's statement: "Julie Hermann’s appointment as the next director of intercollegiate athletics at Rutgers University followed a rigorous and consultative selection process to ensure we had the best person for the position...  Julie was one of 63 individuals initially considered by the search committee and she swiftly stood out as a leading candidate."

Saying the school was "deliberative at every stage of the process," Barchi's statement continued: "Since the announcement of her selection, some media reports have focused on complaints about aspects of her early career."

"Looking at Julie’s entire record of accomplishment, which is stellar, 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. "

Twenty-eight minutes later, Hermann had released her own statement:

"Throughout my career, I have worked with an unwavering commitment to the interests of student athletes. I have worked to demonstrate that women deserve places of leadership in university athletics and to ensure that student athletes are treated with the respect and dignity. That is what makes the allegations made by some of my former student athletes at the University of Tennessee so heartbreaking.

I know the recently published story has caused distress. I was never notified of the reported letter outlining the concerns of some former athletes. However, I am truly sorry that some were disappointed during my tenure as coach. For sure, I was an intense coach, but there is a vast difference between high intensity and abusive behavior.

On the matter of the litigation, that issue was addressed many years ago and was known to Rutgers. I am sorry for the confusion I created by misspeaking about the existence of a video tape. It was recorded nearly 20 years ago and I simply did not recall the video tape until I saw it in media reports.

Over the years, I have tried to learn from each mistake, including the lessons I learned as a young coach. I have become a stronger leader, administrator, and educator as a result. If you look at my 25 year career in athletics, I believe the record shows I am a steadfast advocate for student athletes. I intend to take that passion and hard-earned experience into my leadership role as Athletic Director of Rutgers University.

Despite the unwavering support of Barchi, Hermann's chances of keeping her position once again diminished on Tuesday after the New York Times broke the story of another lawsuit involving the embattled appointee.

In this case, Hermann was blamed for firing a female coach who allegedly tried to expose inappropriate and discriminatory behavior of her superior.  A judge decided the gender discrimination suit against Louisville, but a higher court overturned the six-figure verdict.

The case is pending appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court.  This time, the university says it knew about the lawsuit and did not flinch.

According to the New York Times, "The university's counsel and Richard Edwards, the co-chairman of the search committee, were aware of the sex discrimination lawsuit and had discussed it with Hermann before her hiring, said Greg Trevor, a Rutgers spokesman. He did not say whether Barchi had been briefed on the lawsuit."

B1G TEN $$$
Many felt that a primary motivation for suspending Rice, instead of firing the losing coach, was the school's tenuous attempt to join one of the nation's most prestigious athletic organizations.

If she survives the next three weeks, Hermann will be in the driver's seat when it comes to managing the move to the Big Ten athletic conference, a move that stands to make Rutgers millions.

Hermann also wants to focus on repairing the image of Rutgers’ athletic department and gaining back supporters who were appalled by the basketball scandal, but that will be considerably more difficult in light of the accusations against her.

For his part, Barchi said that Hermann was "instrumental in moving Lousivlle from the Conference USA to the Big East, and now from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference. and her experience in guiding that program through conference re-alignment is important to us as Rutgers prepares to move into the Big Ten."

At Louisville, Herman was responsible for 20 sports, including women’s field hockey, basketball, and softball,  and men’s and women’s swimming. She was top deputy next to Tom Jurich. She added that while working with Jurich, she also helped manage aspects of the football program.

"You are not number two in any athletic department in the country and not interfacing with the for-profit sports," she said.

Herman says she has "been a woman in collegiate athletics all my life," and she called the move to Rutgers a "natural opportunity to step into."

In much the same way Barchi, a medical doctor and former med school president, is widely considered to be necessary for the upcoming merger of Rutgers and the University of Medicine & Dentistry of NJ, Barchi similary defers to Hermann.

He said she was mission critical to executing the school's transfer to the Big Ten conference, a prestigious step up from the Big East, which Rutgers helped start more than twenty years ago.

Both Barchi and Hermann each credited co-chairs Kate Sweeney, a Morgan Stanley executive, and Dick Edwards, a Rutgers Vice President for their job selecting Hermann.  According to published reports, Hermann was added to the list of candidates by Sweeney.

"I too want to thank the 26-person committee who conducted the search for Dr. Barchi, in particular the executive committee and Kate Sweeney and Dr. Edwards," Hermann said at the press conference.

CHRISTIE SUPPORTS BARCHI 100%
According to reports in MyCentralJersey.com's Scarlet Scuttlebutt blog, Christie was forceful in his support for Barchi last night on New Jersey 101.5.  The Governor cast doubt on the claims against Hermann, but asserted the decision to keep or fire her was "not my call."

MyCentralJersey.com reported:

“Let’s not engage in the character assassination that’s going on here,” Christie said, casting doubt on media’s reporting on the matter, saying, “The letter that the Star-Ledger has, from what I’ve been told is not even signed by the players . . . what are we supposed to believe here?”...

“[Barchi] came out very forcefully yesterday in support of Julie Hermann. I understand there’s people who feel differently about it. But it doesn’t matter. It matters what the administration at Rutgers believes.”

“I don’t know Julie Hermann. I haven’t met Julie Hermann, I haven’t spoken to Julie Hermann, I wasn’t involved in vetting Julie Hermann. As I shouldn’t be. I’m the governor of New Jersey. I’m not a recruiter for Rutgers University. My point is let Rutgers handle this.”

Conversely, his main opponent in this year's govenor election, State Senator Barbara Buono, has come out against Barchi.  According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Buono said "President Barchi has made mistake after mistake and we need to put an end to the crisis."

"I have lost confidence in his ability to guide the university out of this imbroglio and if the Board of Governors will not take action, Governor Christie must force their hand.”