Northwestern University

Northwestern University Appoints New Athletic Director Named in Federal Lawsuit

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Northwestern University has named a new athletic director, but some students, faculty members and alumni are upset over the university’s decision to promote Mike Polisky. He was promoted this week after serving more than 10 years as Deputy Director of Athletics for External Affairs.

The promotion comes just months after Polisky was named in a federal lawsuit filed by a Northwestern cheerleader who claims Polisky and three other administrators ignored her complaints of sexual harassment.  

Several faculty members in a letter to the provost said the promotion is alarming, troubling and embarrassing. They said the timing isn’t right given the pending lawsuit and they want the university to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations.

“When I saw he was promoted I was honestly just sad to be a Northwestern alum,” said alum Erika Carter.

Carter graduated in 2018. She was part of the cheerleading team overseen by Polisky. She said during her time on the team she faced sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

“I have been a part of numerous investigations with the Tile IX investigation that Northwestern recently did as well as an independent investigation,” she said. “I continue to call to raise concerns about Mike Polisky and other people in the athletic department.”

She started a petition urging the university to reconsider its decision to promote Polisky. Six faculty members even signed off on a letter to the provost demanding transparency.

“Why is the university appointing him and approving his promotion at a moment when what we’re really asking for is instead-- step back and investigate what happened," said political science and religious studies professor Elizabeth Shakam Hurd. "Give us the facts and then clear him and then promote him."

Back in February, Hayden Richardson filed a federal lawsuit against the university, Polisky and three other administrators. She alleged she was sexually harassed and exploited at school events and brought her complaints to school officials but they did not take her complaints seriously.  

“I filed it because I can’t allow other individuals and woman that come after me to be subjected to the same thing,” said Richardson in an interview with NBC at the time.

After the lawsuit was filed, the university said it launched an investigation and had an independent investigator to look into the allegations. Northwestern's president said in a note Thursday that the university stands by Polisky and the decision to promote him.

The president said in part, “the initial inquiry portion of that investigation is complete and there is no information to suggest that Mike engaged in any conduct that is a violation of policy.”

The university also hired an outside firm as part of the search process and the president said, “Their findings gave me further confidence. I would not have hired him if he did not meet the highest standard of conduct and character.”

Northwestern has filed a motion to dismiss Richardson’s lawsuit.

Richardson's attorney Andrew Miltenberg issued a statement:

“With the recent appointment of Mr. Polisky — who is named in an active Title IX sexual misconduct lawsuit by cheerleader Hayden Richardson against the University — it’s clear that Northwestern is not taking the issue of sexual abuse even remotely seriously. This appointment is even more outrageous because Mr. Polisky called my client’s claims of sexual harassment fraudulent and fabricated when she first came forward to report them to Mr. Polisky, as she was a cheerleader under his direction.  Let’s be clear — Northwestern’s appointment of Mike Polisky is a slap in the face to victims of sexual harassment at Northwestern and all colleges and universities, and a disgusting display of disrespect and cronyism." 

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