NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Rutgers University took steps Thursday to publicly address the administrative fallout from the scandal over its men’s basketball coach, announcing an expected independent review and hiring a new top lawyer for the school.
The university will hire lawyers to do the review and the board of governors said it intends to learn how to better run the school from the lessons in the report.
Basketball coach Mike Rice was suspended, fined and ordered to anger management counseling in December after a former basketball program employee gave school officials a video showing Rice hitting and kicking players and using gay slurs as he yelled at them during practice.
ESPN reported on the video last week, and Rice was fired, an assistant coach resigned and so did Tim Pernetti, the school’s popular 42-year-old athletic director. Pernetti, who was named last month as one of five finalists for the Sports Business Journal’s athletic director of the year award, said in his letter of resignation that his first instinct last November was to fire Rice. But it’s not clear whether he recommended that to anyone else.
In announcing the independent review, board Vice Chairman Gerald Harvey also condemned Rice’s actions.
“It is our continuing commitment that all students are treated with respect and dignity and no single program is allowed to undermine that commitment,” he said.
Board member Daniel Schulman said the board’s athletics committee had a candid discussion on the troubles in the basketball program.
“We’ll learn from this and become a really model citizen going forward,” he said.
The board also announced that a widely respected former state attorney general, John J. Farmer, will be the school’s new top lawyer.
The school’s former top lawyer, John Wolf, had resigned from the university altogether hours earlier when it surfaced that he had merely been demoted amid growing anger over his role in the controversy.
Wolf had approved a decision in December to suspend rather than fire Rice, even though he was aware of the video.
For their part, Rutgers players said Thursday before the board of governors meeting that they didn’t feel threatened by Rice’s behavior and that they want one of his assistant coaches to take over the program.
“Even though the stuff on that tape looks bad, we never felt threatened,” forward Kadeem Jack said.
He and other players called for Rice’s assistant David Cox to become head coach, saying Cox has kept the team together during the scandal.
Who knew about Rice’s behavior earlier and what they did about it has become the focus of fallout. Lawmakers also planned hearings of their own to address some of the same questions.
Despite some calls for his job, Rutgers President Robert Barchi has received public support from Gov. Chris Christie and the chairman of the board of governors.
Barchi and Wolf jointly announced the lawyer’s resignation on Thursday, saying “it is in the best interests of the university that Mr. Wolf resign from the university effective immediately.”
He has agreed to work with his replacement on the transition during a tense time at the university. It’s absorbing two medical schools effective July 1.
Wolf had worked at Rutgers since 1984.
“While I regret the circumstances surrounding my departure from Rutgers, I always will have very fond memories of the challenges and achievements that I have been a part of and the many colleagues and friends,” he said in a statement.
At Thursday’s board meeting, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney called for board member Mark Hershhorn to resign or be ousted.
As chairman of the board’s athletics committee, Hershhorn saw the video of Rice in December. He has said in a statement that he told Pernetti that Rice should be fired. But Sweeney said he should have told the rest of the board about what he knew.
This week, Hershhorn issued a statement saying Sweeney’s statements “are reckless, shocking and were made without any personal knowledge of the facts.”
Hershhorn was not at Thursday’s meeting. The board did not respond to Sweeney’s position before it went into closed session.