TRENTON, N.J. — Thirteen Rutgers University faculty members demanded the resignation of school President Robert Barchi on Wednesday, citing a slow response to a video showing fired men’s basketball coach Mike Rice hitting, shoving and berating his players with anti-gay slurs.
The professors’ two-page letter to the Rutgers Board of Governors and Board of Trustees said Barchi only fired Rice “after media attention forced him to do so.”
The letter said Barchi showed a pattern of “insensitivity and arrogance” toward diversity — an important issue at the state’s flagship public university since the 2010 death of a student who killed himself after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man in his dorm.
“Although President Barchi is now suggesting otherwise, he has known about Coach Rice’s homophobic, misogynist, and abusive behavior for several months now,” the faculty wrote. “Not only did he not fire Coach Rice, he in essence covered up the Coach’s actions by failing to tell faculty and students about them.”
In fact, the faculty wrote, Barchi renewed Rice’s contract around the same time the school learned of the video. The Associated Press viewed the letter on an independent faculty web site.
Rice was ousted Wednesday, soon after the public got its first look at excerpts of video showing his practice-time tirades, including him throwing basketballs at players. The firing marked a quick and embarrassing reversal for the school administration.
Barchi, who took office in September, said he had been told about Rice’s tirades months ago and agreed to discipline the coach, including fines and withheld salary totaling $75,000.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, political leaders, students and activists praised the university for firing Rice but also demanded the school explain why it took so long.
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?”
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.”
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.”
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.
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