05.30.13 8:45 AM ET
Why Rutgers’s Julie Hermann Disaster Means Trouble for the President
The university president is standing by her. The governor has declined to meddle. Could embattled Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann actually hang on to her job?
If students had their way, probably not—and based on a tour of campus and the school’s Facebook pages, a lot of them would like to see the president himself get the boot, too.
Hermann, a former women’s volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee, has been under fire since New Jersey's Star-Ledger reported over the long weekend that all 15 players on her 1996 team at Tennessee signed a two-page letter detailing her “mental cruelty” in what turned out to be the final moments of her college coaching career. Hermann, the players reportedly wrote, called them “whores, alcoholics, and learning disabled.” She was also allegedly involved in two incriminating lawsuits, including one on public record in 1997 for which she paid a $150,000 settlement to an assistant coach who said Hermann fired her because she became pregnant.
In a press conference following the reports, Hermann denied the existence of any such letter from her former players and deflected questions related to the lawsuit. Meanwhile, Rutgers president Robert Barchi has issued a statement in Hermann’s support, claiming she went through an intense vetting process that included a “thorough background check by one of the world’s leading private security firms.” (Indeed, the vetting reportedly cost the school $70,000.)
But Hermann may represent one black eye too many for Barchi and the public university.
“Rutgers is an utter disgrace,” wrote a female alum on one of Rutgers’s Facebook pages. “Just when you think it cannot possibly be anymore inept, that nothing could possibly be worse than the latest scandal at hand, the leadership goes up one more notch and does it again.”
The “latest scandal,” as anyone on campus knows, occurred in March, when the university fired basketball coach Mike Rice after a video surfaced of him slinging basketballs at his players’ heads and calling them “faggots and “fairies.” To make matters worse, it was later revealed that Rice’s replacement, Eddie Jordan, had never received a diploma despite being touted as a Rutgers grad in his hiring announcement.
All of which has students asking: Why can’t Brachi and his administration get their shit together?
“A lot of students feel as though Barchi doesn’t see anything wrong with the allegations against [Hermann],” Mike, a graduate student, told The Daily Beast, adding that a feminist narrative has emerged among students and alumni who find Hermann’s alleged use of the word “whore” to be just as derogatory and unacceptable as “faggot” or any of the other epithets Rice hurled at his players.
Some 38 people have signed an alumnus-organization change.org petition demanding Hermann’s resignation, while 87 percent of 3,800 people polled by the Star-Ledger think she should be fired. Even some New Jersey lawmakers have said Hermann’s hiring reflects poorly on Barchi and the entire university.
Speaking to the New York Times, Assemblyman Thomas Giblin said the reports will “continue to haunt [Hermann], and it’s going to put Barchi’s presidency in peril if he stays the course.” Others like State Senator Raymond Lesniak, who slammed Barchi’s presidential tenure as “a disaster of leadership,” think his career has run its crash course.
But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has thrown his weight behind the school president and is refusing to meddle in Rutgers’ affairs. “It’s not my call,” Christie said earlier this week during his monthly “Ask the Governor” WXKV local radio show, adding that he has “absolute confidence” in President Barchi, hailing him as “the right man for the job.”
Despite Christie’s public endorsement of Barchi and Hermann, alumni and students remain unimpressed with the administration’s inability to find the best people to run Rutgers's sports programs.
“I don’t necessarily think they should fire [Hermann],” said Sam Wyckoff, an upcoming senior and one of the few students on campus Tuesday for post-commencement classes. “But I think between hiring Hermann and hiring Eddie Jordan as the new coach, the administrators need to do better research.”