I attended today’s Town Hall Meeting at Rutgers in Newark, hosted by President Robert Barchi, who opened his remarks by reminding the audience that the purpose of the meeting was to focus on the Strategic Plan for moving Rutgers toward a world class future. But, the phalanx of reporters and television crews in attendance suggested that there might just be some lingering interest in the ongoing basketball scandal that came to light last week.
After Barchi opened with a grand vision of shared values, and ambitious leadership, an audience member asked about Barchi’s involvement in the basketball story, and Barchi retreated behind the defense of “I didn’t see the video til last week, and once I did, I took appropriate action.” That explanation, which has blunted some of the criticism, and at least to date may be what has saved his job, really bothered me. Because there’s almost never a video of bad behavior. And, what if there had been no video this time?
So, I went to the mic, and asked what seemed to me simple questions:
Assuming you did not see the video until last week, when I and the rest of America first saw it, were you at least aware last year that an employee of this University had on multiple occasions, over an extended period, physically assaulted multiple students while yelling misogynistic and homophobic slurs at them?
And if so, why didn’t you take the appropriate action then? And if not, who did? And either way, do you think in the face of the University’s inaction before the video became public, you still have the ability to lead this great institution into the world class future we’re discussing today?
His answers, to put it mildly, were less than world class. He didn’t admit or deny what he knew, he didn’t identify who knew what or when, and to the question of whether he still has the ability to lead – he deferred to the judgment of the Rutgers Board at whose pleasure he serves.
And, I come back to my office to learn that Governor Christie is proclaiming – without the benefit of any independent investigation – that Barchi did not commit a fireable offense, because he had not seen the video. I would say this to President Barchi, and to the Governor: leadership doesn’t always come with a videotape. Sometimes the facts are enough. And if Barchi, or others in leadership (after all, someone overruled Tim Pernetti’s recommendation to fire the Coach) had the facts described above – video or not – there was only one appropriate action to take. The one not taken until the video surfaced.