U of I puts athletic director on leave to investigate handling of sexual assault cases

University of Idaho president touts athletic director’s efforts to prevent sexual assault

Calling him a "role model for the university," University of Idaho President Chuck Staben expressed support for athletic director Rob Spear in comments to student leaders on Wednesday, March 28, in Moscow.
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Calling him a "role model for the university," University of Idaho President Chuck Staben expressed support for athletic director Rob Spear in comments to student leaders on Wednesday, March 28, in Moscow.

University of Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear on Tuesday was placed on a 60-day, paid administrative leave as the school investigates “process failures” related to sexual assault complaints made against a football player in 2012 and 2013.

The investigation will start with the 2012-13 incidents but won’t be limited to them. U of I President Chuck Staben expects to provide a public report at the end, he said in an interview.

“This (leave) is to conduct an investigation and what we do going forward will depend upon the results of that investigation,” said Staben, who planned to meet with the university’s athletes on Tuesday evening.

Spear was set to meet with the ASUI Senate — the student legislative body — on Wednesday to discuss the mistakes made by his department and the improvements implemented since. He canceled that meeting because he’s not allowed on campus, senators said. The Senate has offered him the option of a written statement instead.

The Senate still plans to vote at its meeting Wednesday night on a resolution that requests Spear be fired.

“I’m not about promoting and perpetuating a culture where sexual assault and issues reporting those cases is just swept under the rug,” said Nampa’s Catherine Yenne, the ASUI vice president and lead author of the resolution. “That’s unacceptable to me. ... Rob Spear and members of the athletic department continue to mention there’s a lot of great training going on. If those trainings are not being met with strong leadership, I don’t think that’s enough. We need to have consequences for actions. This guy messed up, and so I think he needs to suffer the consequences.”

The university will contract with an outside entity to review what happened in the 2012 and 2013 cases, “as well as what has been done since regarding sexual assault reporting and what we can improve in the future,” Staben told students, staff and faculty in an email sent Tuesday.

The email’s subject line was: “We hear you. We must do better. We will.”

“Our intention is to evaluate every aspect of the serious issues brought to light to ensure we do not repeat them,” Staben wrote.

Spear received a four-year contract in 2016 through February 2020. He earns $196,958 per year and has been in his role for 14 years. He won’t be on campus or involved in university business unless called upon by Staben. Associate Athletic Director Pete Isakson will serve as acting athletic director.

The Idaho Statesman reported March 8 that former diver Mairin Jameson accused football player Jahrie Level of sexual assault in April 2013 and that the school made several mistakes in how it handled that case, including Spear’s failure to notify the dean of students office and several weeks delay in telling Jameson that Level had been dismissed from the football team. Spear admitted the case wasn’t handled correctly and apologized to Jameson by email in February after she wrote about her experience online.

The Statesman’s reporting also revealed that distance runner Maggie Miller told the Moscow Police Department and football coach Paul Petrino that Level had threatened her two weeks before Jameson’s assault, according to a police report. Spear said he wasn’t informed.

The Statesman learned about a November 2012 case that also involved Level. A 19-year-old female student was hospitalized with a 0.36 blood alcohol content and extensive bruising after drinking with Level for less than 2 hours. The student contacted the dean of students office, according to her mother. Spear said he didn’t know about the incident until this year.

Level was cited for providing vodka to someone younger than 21, and police concluded that the bruising was from consensual activity.

The November 2012 incident was reported last Thursday, the day after Staben called Spear a “role model” at last week’s ASUI Senate meeting because of his recent efforts in sexual assault prevention. Staben already knew most of the details of the 2012 case, but the article “heightened some concerns that I had,” he said.

“This is a challenging day,” Staben said in Tuesday’s U of I news release. “But understanding how we’ve handled situations in the past and how we can improve is essential. We have a responsibility to provide our students, and our student-athletes, with the best college experience and the most support possible.”

Staben, who joined the university in 2014, learned of Jameson’s case shortly before the March 8 story in the Statesman, he said.

“What concerns me about what happened in 2013 is that – and certainly we’ve admitted this, Rob has admitted this – we did not follow our own policy at that time,” Staben said, “and also not thinking about how we can best serve our student at that time, Ms. Jameson, for example. That concerns me, because we should think about our students and we should follow our policy.”

The university indicated that it would engage an external consultant to improve sexual assault prevention, reporting and response, and hire additional help “to address the workload” in the university’s Office of Civil Rights and Investigations. The Senate resolution specifically calls for hiring two additional OCRI employees.

“One of the goals that I have for the process,” Staben told the Statesman, “is that we demonstrate our extraordinary concern for students and also our willingness to be as open and transparent as we possibly can, and regain the trust of those who perhaps we have, to some extent, lost their trust over this issue.”

Meanwhile, the ASUI Senate continued preparation for its vote Wednesday night on the resolution that will ask more of the university than just Spear’s removal. Two of those requests already have been filled, although Staben says that’s coincidental: an investigation of Spear’s handling of cases, and improved staffing at OCRI.

The resolution, which needs a simple majority in the 15-member Senate to pass, also seeks:

“Last chance” language added to the contracts for Spear – if he is not terminated – and Petrino, who has four years left.

A “comprehensive and anonymous survey” of female athletes from the past 10 years to assess the athletics culture, with results published no later than spring 2019.

And strong student representation, including student-athletes, on a new task force formed to examine safety and security, announced by the university last week shortly before the Senate meeting.

The Senate “will not be satisfied with anything less than immediate, not postponed, action,” the resolution concludes.

Senators have been juggling schoolwork with research on the resolution and interviews with concerned members of the university community, Yenne said. Some interviews have produced anonymous statements because the subjects weren’t comfortable speaking out publicly, Yenne said.

“People will say we’re proud of what you’re doing, we’re glad you’re doing it, but there’s no way they’re going to come forward,” she said, “which is really disheartening.”

“ ... It’s a bummer, but it’s been the nature of almost every single one of the meetings we’ve had with various folks this week.”

Shaundra Herrud, a senior from Eagle, is one of the senators expressing concern about the resolution. She says it might be an “overstep” to suggest Spear be fired for the mistakes made in 2013, particularly since some facts are shielded by student privacy. The majority of the students in the living groups she represents share that view, she said.

In the latest version, the resolution was broadened to put more attention on the overall athletics culture.

“Everyone agrees ... that Rob Spear has acted in ways that are not true to the Vandals way, and that behavior should be condemned and not accepted at this university,” Herrud said. “My biggest concern in all this is ASUI does have a very powerful voice ... and I want to make sure whatever conclusion we come to does not diminish the future impact of ASUI’s voice.”

It’s unclear what Staben will do if the resolution passes. He doesn’t plan to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

“I always pay attention to what students are saying, what their concerns are,” Staben said, “but we have to make our decisions about what’s best for the university ourselves.”

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