NBC10.com - Nefertiti Jaquez
The men's basketball coach at Rutgers University is under fire after new video surfaces showing what some are calling the mistreatment of players.
Thirteen Rutgers University faculty members are demanding the resignation of university President Robert Barchi amid a scandal involving fired men's basketball coach Mike Rice.
The professors' two-page letter to the Rutgers Board of Governors and Board of Trustees calls inexcusable Barchi's handling of Rice's dealings with student athletes and his insensitivity toward diversity.
The Rutgers coach was fired Wednesday, one day after a video surfaced of him hitting, shoving and berating his players with anti-gay slurs. Rice had been suspended late last year after the school was first made aware of the video.
The taunts were especially troubling behavior at Rutgers, where freshman student Tyler Clementi killed himself in 2010 after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man in his dorm.
Political leaders, students and activists praised Rutgers University for firing Rice but also demanding the school explain why it took so long.
The call for a wider investigation touched on some long-running issues at the state's flagship university, including the treatment of gays and concerns about efforts to raise the profile of its sports programs. Just two months ago, the school announced a center named for the student who killed himself after a roommate used a webcam to watch him kissing a man, a case that rocked the campus and also drew national attention.
Coach Mike Rice was ousted Wednesday, only a day after the public got its first look at excerpts of video showing Rice's practice-time tirades, including him throwing basketballs at players. The firing marked a quick and embarrassing reversal for the school administration, which had decided late last year to discipline Rice but let him stay on.
Gov. Chris Christie, who reorganized New Jersey's higher education system last year to help raise Rutgers' stature as a research university, called the case “a regrettable episode for the university.” A day after making clear he thought Rice should be let go, he praised the decision to do so.
Many alumni, students and groups including the gay-rights organization Garden State Equality called for a new investigation into why Rice wasn't fired last year when the video was first given to university officials by a former basketball program employee.
“I'm puzzled as to how anyone could think Mr. Rice was someone who should be representing our state university on a national level,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat who later said lawmakers could hold legislative hearings on the topic. “I expect a full and detailed explanation from the Rutgers administration as to why Mr. Rice was not dismissed sooner and how exactly that decision was made.”
Much of the ire, on campus and beyond, was directed at Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, who admitted Tuesday he had made a wrong decision to ``attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice.''
“I want to know why he didn't take any action sooner,” said Jimmy Nguyen, a 22-year-old senior. “Why did he wait this long?”
Troubles with Rice first became public late last year when he was suspended for three games, fined and ordered to anger management counseling after the video was provided to university officials. The case blew up when Pernetti presented the video to reporters Tuesday as ESPN was preparing to air it.
Rutgers announced the firing on Twitter and then through a news release, but did not made its president, athletic director or the chairman of the board of governors available to take questions.
Speaking with reporters outside his home in Little Silver, Rice apologized.
“It's troubling, but at some time maybe I'll try to explain it,” he said. “But right now there's no explanation for what's on those films. There is no excuse for it. I was wrong. I want to tell everybody who's believed in me that I'm deeply sorry for the pain and hardship that I've caused.”
Barchi, who took office in September, said Wednesday that he had been told about Rice's tirades months ago and agreed to discipline the coach, including fines and withheld salary totaling $75,000.
The athletic department said the coach received $622,500 last year and that his contract called for a $750,000 salary in 2013. Spokesman Jason Baum said a settlement with the ex-coach, who had two years left on his contract, is being discussed.
Barchi said that seeing the video this week helped him conclude that the men's basketball coach should be fired, a decision he said he made along with the athletic director.
“I have now reached the conclusion that coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively in a position that demands the highest levels of leadership, responsibility and public accountability,” he said.
Pernetti has said that about 60 percent of the clips on the video, which was made by former basketball program employee Eric Murdock, were in Rice's first year as coach, during the 2010-11 season. If so, the incidents came soon after a campus tragedy brought about introspection and policy changes regarding how gay students are treated.
In 2010, the university got widespread attention when Tyler Clementi, a freshman, killed himself after his roommate used a webcam to see him kissing another man. The roommate, Dharun Ravi, spent 20 days in jail last year after being convicted of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and other crimes.
In the aftermath, Rutgers changed policies to try to make the campus more hospitable to gay students, including allowing students to have a roommate of any gender.
Clementi's suicide also led to the quick passage of a law advocates had been pushing for previously that required public schools to report bullying and for public colleges and universities to have codes of conduct that spelled out that bullying is not acceptable. Under Rutgers' policy, students can be kicked out of school for it.
Two members of Congress from New Jersey, Democratic Rep. Rush Holt and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, are pushing a federal bill named after Clementi that would prohibit harassment of college students by other students, faculty and staff. The two said Wednesday that the law would have applied to Rice had it been in place.
Clementi's parents, Joseph and Jane Clementi, released a statement Wednesday praising the university for firing Rice and for trying to be more inclusive to vulnerable students.
“All students require safe environments to learn and reach their full potential, and Coach Rice's conduct has no place on a campus that is devoted to learning and fostering a sense of community,” the couple said.
On campus, freshman Juan Torres, 19, said he took the allegations against Rice much more seriously after seeing the video this week.
“This is already hurting our reputation,” he said. “Not firing him would have killed our reputation.”
On Twitter and Facebook, alumni worried about the same question. While many were pleased Rice was fired, many also wondered why it took until the video was made public for it to happen.
Rutgers has experienced years of angst over the growing role and costs of a top-notch sports program, which is a relatively new development for a school that had long fielded also-rans in the high-profile sports of football and men's basketball. Rice had high expectations but not much success, coaching his team to a 44-51 record in three years.
Eric Young, an 18-year-old first-year student, said what he saw in the video was unacceptable, but he said it wasn't unusual. “I want to see how many coaches do the same thing,” he said.
Christie said in a statement: “As we move on from this incident, I am very optimistic that Rutgers will select a new head coach who not only puts a winning team on the court, but will make everyone proud of the example he sets every day for the young men in his charge.”