DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Duck Disgrace
With school returning, it is often a time for renewed school pride. But over the past 18 months, a story has been unfolding at the University of Oregon that casts a dark shadow over the state’s largest school—and, more directly, questions the importance placed on sports that has overwhelmed decency and morality.
A year and half ago, a female student on UO campus accused three varsity basketball players of raping her. The incident occurred on March 8, 2014, the evening after the basketball team was celebrating a big win over Arizona State. Ten days later, even though the athletic department was aware that the investigation was under way, two of the three players were allowed to compete at the NCAA March Madness Tournament, winning their first game and then losing in the second round to the University of Wisconsin. According to Eugene Weekly, playing in the tournament “netted basketball Coach Dana Altman a $50,000 bonus, while Athletic Director Rob Mullens received $25,000.”
Moreover, at the very same time and unaware another rape case was under investigation in Oregon, the Wall Street Journal published a story about one of the accused basketball players, Brandon Austin, who had been “a prized freshman” at Providence College in Rhode Island only months earlier when he and another player were accused of raping a female student. In response, Providence College quickly suspended the player. A month later though, the UO coach recruited him to play for Oregon, although aware of the suspension.
Ultimately, it was not until six weeks after the initial crime report that the university suspended the players. Although no criminal charges were filed, the university’s own investigation found all three violated the university’s sexual conduct policies.
But the legal issues did not end there. This January, the victim filed a lawsuit against the university alleging that the university mishandled the investigation and, more precisely, that the athletic department should have known the threat posed by the transfer player. In a letter to the The Daily Emerald, the woman wrote, “I am angry with the culture that appears to exist in our athletic department that prioritizes winning over safety of our students.”
Intensifying those accusations and the university’s potential legal fault, a month after the victim’s civil suit was filed, a staff therapist at the university sent a letter to university administrators and the U.S. Justice Department claiming that the university’s General Counsel had wrongly accessed the victim’s therapy records. The Huffington Report obtained a copy of the letter and published it.
Out of these horrible circumstances stepped both U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (Oregon’s first congressional district), who began to pressure the U.S. Department of Education to tighten regulations allowing college officials access to students’ medical records.
In early August, the victim’s civil lawsuit against UO was settled. The university paid a reported $800,000 and waived her tuition for four years. All three basketball players have been expelled from the university, and banned from the campus as long as the woman is attending.
In addition, last week, the U.S. Department of Education issued a clarification to guidelines pertaining to the privacy of student medical records, noting that they “should stay private with only a few, specific exceptions in cases where colleges that are sued need the information to defend themselves.”
It is easy to see the villains and the far-reaching disgraceful behavior of many administrators at the University of Oregon in this case—and to wonder about the unholy privileges given to college athletes—but it is also worthwhile to point out the minor victory that our elected officials scored to help protect the privacy of victims, and the important role of the media in helping shine a light
on the university’s poor behavior.