After Rice, pressure on Pernetti
State Senate president calls for athletic director to resign
Although there is increasing local and national pressure for Athletic Director Tim Pernetti to resign from the University, there is continued silence from the administration.
The call to fire Pernetti, or for him to resign, comes after the University fired former head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice on the morning of April 3, after a video displaying the former coach’s verbal and physical abuse of players during basketball practices surfaced.
University President Robert L. Barchi postponed a Strategic Planning town hall that was set to take place yesterday at Rutgers-Newark. The administration was not available for comment at press time as to why it was canceled.
N.J. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3, released a statement asking for Pernetti’s removal from his post as athletic director at the University.
“It is becoming abundantly clear that Tim Pernetti cannot remain in his position as athletic director at Rutgers,” he said in a statement. “For the good of the school, its students and its faculty, he should either resign or be removed from his position immediately.”
Sweeney said Rice is eligible for a $100,000 bonus for finishing out this season, which would not have happened if he were fired last year.
“How long does anyone think a professor at Rutgers would have lasted if they yelled at their students, called them homophobic slurs and threw books at their heads when they answered a question wrong?” he said. “The response after watching the video should have been immediate, clear and final.”
Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, agrees.
As a part of an organization that pushes for civil rights, which was also a strong proponent for anti-bullying legislation in New Jersey, Stevenson said teachers and coaches are supposed to mentor and protect students.
The University’s student-athletes deserve better, he said, and the administration has a lot of questions to answer regarding Barchi and Pernetti’s response toward Rice.
“If [head] coach Rice had been fired when [the abuses] came to light, it would have been good enough,” Stevenson said. “Why didn’t the athletic director let the student population, or the public know about it?”
Stevenson said he believes the reason for Pernetti’s desire to not alert the public about Rice’s actions stems from a cultural problem.
“It goes directly to the idea that it was easier to make it hush-hush than to make it public,” he said. “I think that speaks loudly to what’s going on in the University, if that’s going on in the athletic department, what else is hidden at the University?”
Rice’s physical and verbal abuses highlight the need for more funding and a better understanding for bullying, Stevenson said.
“This is New Jersey’s state university, this is not a place where this is supposed to happen, via athletics or education,” he said.
Stevenson said if Pernetti felt a three-game suspension was the correct response for Rice’s actions, Pernetti should have still released the video.
“He obviously knew there was going to be public outrage,” he said. “I don’t know [Pernetti as a person,] but his primary function is the education and security of the student population — and he failed at that,” Stevenson said.
But Pernetti is not the only one facing heat for the lack of immediate and severe action against Rice. Ten faculty professors of the University signed a letter asking for Barchi’s resignation, which they sent to the University’s Board of Governors and Board of Trustees. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/134038161/Rutgers-Faculty-Letter)
“We, the undersigned faculty of Rutgers University, are demanding the immediate resignation of our President Robert Barchi, in light of his inexcusable handling of Coach Mike Rice’s homophobic and misogynist abuse of our students,” the letter read.
The letter goes on to explain other issues the authors who penned the letter has with Barchi, such as the lack of transparency Barchi exhibited in his relations with them and arrogance toward issues of diversity.
But out of the 10 faculty members that first signed the letter, nine are from Rutgers-Newark, and only one is from the New Brunswick campus.
The faculty members said in the letter that on April 2, Barchi was at the Newark campus to explain to legislators “his mistreatment of the Newark campus.”
“During yesterday’s meeting President Barchi already knew of the unfolding Rice scandal, yet declined to inform the legislators present,” the letter read. “Again, it is indicative of his pattern of lack of transparency that he did not “come clean” at this critical moment.”
None of the 10 professors who signed the letter were available for comment at press time.
Rebecca Lynn, president of the University’s Queer Student Association, said Rice’s termination was a responsibility on the University’s part as there was no other choice.
“I think whether it is gender, race and sexual orientation, no one likes to see their own personal identity used as an insult,” Lynn said. “Students were offended, and a lot of them identify with the community. If the language was different, the [situation] wouldn’t have been any different —any community involved would be deeply insulted.”
But Lynn, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said it does not make sense to have Pernetti and Barchi resign, though she understands the community’s call for it.
“I understand their source of anger, but I don’t think it is a completely rational thought. Right now people are emotionally driven, and they need to take time and consideration and investigate the issue instead of jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers,” she said. “It all comes down to one individual’s actions.”
Lynn said the LGBTQ community is making a strong presence in the University, especially after kicking off ‘Gaypril,’ on April 1, a month dedicated to raising awareness of LGBTQ issues.
“QSA welcomes the athletic department to open discussions … to be proactive in this issue,” she said.
When asked about the national media coverage of Rice on campus, along with the links made to the suicide of Tyler Clementi in 2010, which stemmed from cyber-bullying, Lynn grew frustrated.
“I hate the link to Tyler Clementi. … We need to put Tyler’s name to rest,” she said. “He’s also an individual, and we don’t know what his stance would be. We wouldn’t want our names associated with it. [They] need to show what the campus has done.”
Ahmed Gewiley-Elbakly, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said he believes the administration’s actions to be justified and also believes the actions Pernetti and Barchi took against Rice last fall were reasonable.
“I don’t think they did anything wrong by not firing him outright, because, being a fan of the basketball team when I first came [to the University], I could see that the players had potential, and it didn’t seem like they were getting tortured,” he said. “I could empathize with Pernetti for not [wanting] to let it get out.”
He believes Barchi and Pernetti should not resign.
“Absolutely not — leaders don’t quit in the face of adversity,” he said. “If they did, we would have no leaders.”
A Facebook group titled “I SUPPORT TIM PERNETTI” was created yesterday and reached around 2,000 members at the time of publication.
A Twitter account with the handle, @ThisisRutgers was created yesterday to highlight the University’s achievements, in response to the negative coverage the University is receiving.