NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – The call from faculty members and politicians to oust top Rutgers University administrators grew louder Thursday, a day after men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for mistreating players, including shoving them and berating them with gay slurs.
More than 50 faculty members signed a letter calling for the dismissal of Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and an explanation from President Robert Barchi for why he didn’t fire Rice last year when he learned of a video showing Rice’s behavior during practices.
Stephen Sweeney, the president of the state Senate, also called for Pernetti to step down or be fired. Pernetti deserves credit for getting Rutgers into the Big Ten conference, but he mishandled this situation, Sweeney said.
“This incident will continue to hang over Rutgers like a dark cloud for weeks, months and perhaps years to come,” the Democratic lawmaker said in a statement. “It seems pretty clear that things were not handled well from the start.”
Meanwhile, the number calling for Barchi to step down more than doubled Thursday to 28.
The letter calling for Barchi’s resignation was first sent to the university’s governing boards on Wednesday. In it, the faculty cite Barchi’s “inexcusable handling of coach Mike Rice’s homophobic and misogynist abuse” of players, his “continued pattern of insensitivity and arrogance toward issues of diversity” and the “secrecy and lack of transparency that he has exhibited in his relations” with faculty, staff and students.
It’s unclear what effect the calls might have on the president or the athletic director. Neither was willing to be interviewed by The Associated Press on Wednesday or Thursday. Members of the university’s two governing boards have been mum.
Barchi, a neuroscience researcher before he became a university administrator, was hired a year ago and took office Sept. 1 to lead the university with 58,000 students on three campuses. He had been president of Thomas Jefferson University, a Philadelphia health sciences university, and before that was an administrator at the University of Pennsylvania.
He was brought to Rutgers as the university takes over two medical schools that now are part of the separate University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The ongoing reconfiguration of the state’s higher education system is intended to expand Rutgers’ life-science research prowess, and Barchi was chosen largely to oversee that.
He had never been an administrator, though, at a school with athletic scholarships.
Over the past decade, Rutgers’ athletic program has grown increasingly ambitious and expensive, largely as the university’s football team transformed from an also-ran to a power in the Big East conference. The school’s teams are set next year to join the more prestigious Big Ten, a move engineered largely by Pernetti, a former TV sports executive.
Shortly after he took office, Barchi told reporters that high-profile sports teams are an important way to increase the university’s visibility, but that he wanted to gradually reduce the university’s operating subsidy for sports — currently about $8 million per year — while continuing to pay for scholarships for athletes at a cost of about $10 million annually.
Barchi said in a statement Wednesday that Pernetti told him last year about the video of Rice made by a former basketball program employee, but he said he did not watch the video until Tuesday, the day it was made public.
In December, after the university consulted lawyers and commissioned an independent report on Rice’s actions, Barchi said he agreed to suspend the coach for three games, fine him and order him to anger management counseling.
He said that when he saw the video, he realized that Rice needed to be removed entirely.
The faculty calling for Barchi to step down said in their letter that he knew enough to remove the coach months ago.
“Although President Barchi is now suggesting otherwise, he has known about Coach Rice’s homophobic, misogynist and abusive behavior for several months now,” the letter said.
Ron Becker, head of special collections and university archives at Rutgers, said he believes the handling of the situation needs to be reviewed.
“The value of sports and the Division I atmosphere often trumps some of the basic needs of the university,” he said. “The pressure to win and succeed at athletics seems to trump (academics) around here.”
Democratic state lawmakers, particularly Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, have been calling for legislative hearings on why Rice was not fired sooner, but as of Thursday, none had been scheduled.
Keeping the coach on through the season cost the university a portion of Rice’s salary — he was paid $622,500 in 2012 — and also a $100,000 bonus for coaching the final game of the year. “That fact makes his suspension and fine look even more ridiculous,” Sweeney said.
Athletic department spokesman Jason Baum said Thursday that the university is contractually obligated to pay the bonus, which is due this month.
Delli Santi reported from Trenton. Also contributing to this report were AP reporters Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield and Katie Zezima in Newark.