Idaho Vandals

Should U of I athletic director lose his job? Student senate might recommend it

Update: University of Idaho President Chuck Staben and female members of the athletic department provided a spirited defense of Athletic Director Rob Spear on Wednesday night in Moscow. Read the complete story here. Our original story continues below.

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University of Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear should be removed from his job in the wake of the university’s recent apology to a sexual-assault victim for mistakes made in her case nearly five years ago, two student leaders say.

The ASUI Senate plans to vote on a resolution April 4 that would ask President Chuck Staben to fire Spear, who has been the athletic director for 14 years. Spear is scheduled to meet with the Senate before the vote.

However, it was possible that the 15 senators could vote as soon as Wednesday night. Staben was scheduled to attend that meeting.

ASUI doesn’t have any authority over Spear’s fate. The resolution would serve as the students voicing their opinion.

“What bothered me the most is the simple fact that we as students deserve, at a minimum, to feel safe on campus, and that means being able to trust our administrators, our faculty and our professors that when we come to them with a legit grievance like sexual assault that they’re going to properly handle that,” said Jacob Lockhart, an ASUI senator from Coeur d’Alene. “... I don’t want that precedent set for others at the university. When things like that happen, you own up to it – not five years later.”

The students say they were motivated to action by an article published March 8 by the Idaho Statesman. Former Idaho diver Mairin Jameson and former track athlete Maggie Miller shared their stories of reporting football player Jahrie Level to the Moscow Police Department and the athletic department. Miller reported to police and football coach Paul Petrino that Level threatened her on April 8, 2013. Jameson accused Level of sexual assault on April 23, 2013, in a meeting with police, who immediately informed Spear and Petrino.

Title IX guidelines and university policies weren’t followed by the department in either case. Spear has admitted mistakes and says the university should have apologized to Jameson when he learned of those missteps in a meeting with university legal counsel in May 2013. He emailed Jameson an apology in February 2018 after she wrote publicly about her experience.

“I look forward to my upcoming meeting with ASUI leadership,” Spear said in a statement. “It will allow me to completely and accurately explain the process followed in 2013, as well as the dedication our athletic department has shown in the areas of Title IX education and training since that time.”

Earlier this week, current Idaho volleyball player Delaney Hopen published a blog post through the University of Idaho Women’s Center expressing admiration for the decisions Jameson and Miller made to speak publicly about their experiences. An interview request for Hopen through athletics was denied.

“To be a woman who has stepped up and admitted that something went wrong is revolutionary,” Hopen wrote. “We can’t sit back and watch anymore. ... I can now no longer say I have complete trust in our system because I thought our staff would be different. I now realize: The true value within our department begins with the men and ends with the women.”

University of Idaho senior Sarah Solomon, of Middleton, who has past ASUI experience, approached Lockhart with the resolution idea. Others in student government were having similar conversations, Lockhart said. ASUI Vice President Catherine Yenne is the primary author of the resolution.

Students have started a Facebook group called University of Idaho Students for Accountability and Safety and an online petition calling for Spear’s removal that has generated nearly 400 signatures since it was posted Sunday.

Solomon met with three school officials to educate herself on the handling of sexual-assault cases before moving forward, she said.

“You should be able to count on your administrators to do everything they possibly can to make sure that there’s justice and the process was followed,” Solomon said. “To hear that someone didn’t follow that process and didn’t take their case seriously is really frustrating. ... The general feel of campus is just frustration that this had happened and that it was so swept under the rug for five years. That’s a really scary thought for a lot of students.”

Spear received a new four-year contract in 2016 through February 2020. He earns $196,958 per year.

His contract includes this job responsibility: “Know, recognize and comply with all applicable laws and the policies, rules and regulations of the university, the university’s governing board, the conference and the NCAA; supervise and take appropriate steps to ensure that director’s assistant and associate directors, any other employees for whom director is administratively responsible, and the participants in the program know, recognize and comply with all such laws, policies, rules and regulations.”

In Miller’s case, there was no indication that Petrino reported her accusation to the dean of students office for investigation, as required by Title IX guidelines and university policy. Spear said he wasn’t told. Petrino says he doesn’t remember the incident.

In Jameson’s case, several members of the department were aware of her accusation and other reports she made of harassment, and those weren’t forwarded to the dean of students office, either. Jameson also was told in a meeting led by Spear that the university couldn’t investigate her assault because it happened off-campus. Spear said the department was operating under an outdated university policy governing off-campus incidents that had been changed 13 months earlier to comply with federal Title IX guidelines.

Lockhart and Solomon are concerned about the precedent set in Jameson’s case. Spear has said that no members of the athletic department staff were reprimanded.

Spear’s removal, Solomon said, would send a message to administrators and students. Students will be able to speak on the topic at the Senate meetings, which are held at 7 p.m. Pacific Wednesdays in the Idaho Commons, and Jameson will provide a statement of support for the students’ efforts.

There’s “substantial support both within the Senate and within the students” for the resolution, Lockhart said. It needs a simple majority to pass.

“That would be a huge thing for students to see your safety is taken seriously,” Solomon said, “and if somebody doesn’t do their job, they’re going to be held accountable for that.”

Hopen, in her blog post, tells Jameson and Miller that they are prompting change on campus.

“The truth is, there is a lot of unfair treatment, and from the looks of it, there always has been here in our athletic department,” the junior wrote. “The good thing about finally shedding light on an issue is that it helps others come out of the dark and share their story. We are patiently waiting to hear about others impacted by similar issues on campus even outside the athletic department. There are only two head coaches in our department that are women, and I see that to be an issue in itself. Where will we find support when there are no resources?”

Chadd Cripe: 208-377-6398, @chaddcripe

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