Idaho Vandals

U of I rejects Rob Spear’s explanation for 2013 mistakes; students want his resignation

University of Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear told the student senate Wednesday night that he technically might not have violated university policy in a 2013 sexual assault case because of a procedural quirk he recently discovered.

He also blamed “mass confusion” about university policy and insufficient training by the university for his not knowing that he was obligated to report the sexual assault to the dean of students office for investigation.

The university, which placed Spear on a 60-day administrative leave Tuesday, rejected both arguments.

“The policy was clear. Spear’s knowledge of it was inadequate,” a university statement provided to the Idaho Statesman read.

The ASUI Senate voted 10-5 to pass a resolution calling for Spear’s immediate resignation or removal near the end of a 3 hour, 40 minute meeting that was the longest in the legislative body’s history. Despite the wording, senators say they aren’t requesting that Spear be fired. They also removed football coach Paul Petrino from the resolution because they said they hadn’t done enough due diligence on him.

The senate chose to stop short of asking for Spear’s firing because that action could open the university to a wrongful termination lawsuit and senators felt as if President Chuck Staben was listening to their concerns, senator Jordan Kizer said. Spear has two more years on his contract.

“Staben has not given us any reason to think he won’t stand with and for students,” Kizer said. “As one person put it, the original version that called on Staben to take action was ‘like punching an ally in the face.’ This new version keeps the pressure on Spear without throwing Staben under the bus.”

Much of the debate and testimony centered on the 2013 sexual assault of former diver Mairin Jameson, who shared her experience in a blog post in January and in a Statesman story published March 8. Spear admitted in an interview in early March that mistakes were made by his department in the case, and the university apologized to Jameson in a public statement.

“I am so proud of the ASUI senators who brought forth and passed this resolution,” Jameson said. “It is a difficult subject for anyone to address and I can’t put into words the admiration I have for them. I am beyond proud of how they handled it with grace and professionalism. They focused on the indisputable facts and took a step forward in creating positive change at the University of Idaho.”

Hannah Spear, no relation to the athletic director, was one of several senators who has described conversations with student-athletes who supported the resolution but were unwilling to do so publicly.

“I sit in class with these students every day,” she said. “I’ve had conversations with people about their discomfort with the athletics department before this resolution even came out, before the stories came out. I could not be more confident that many students feel that way and that this resolution was the right thing to do.”

The athletic director’s presence at Wednesday’s meeting was a late surprise. He requested permission from the university to attend – he isn’t allowed on campus during his paid leave – and that was granted to help the students conclude their work on the resolution, university spokeswoman Jodi Walker said. Spear was there to represent himself, not the university, she said.

Spear spoke for 33 minutes, including answering some pointed questions from senators, and then left. He appeared to have an adviser with him.

ASUI Vice President Catherine Yenne, the lead author of the resolution, learned about an hour before the meeting that Spear would attend. She appreciated his willingness to answer questions and his patience with aggressive questioning, she said.

“That was the one piece that has been missing, and people have been calling us on that,” said Yenne, who is from Nampa. “We wanted to hear from him and see what he had to say.”

Spear sparked some debate among senators with his latest argument. He claims that an emergency policy change in 2012 to require university investigation of off-campus incidents involving sexual harassment or violence expired six months later because it wasn’t replaced with a permanent policy. However, Walker told the Statesman on Thursday that the off-campus policy was enacted on an emergency basis on Feb. 27, 2012, adopted as a permanent policy by the general faculty March 24, 2012, and approved by the president May 30, 2012. The off-campus requirement later was folded into a new policy but never lapsed, Walker said. She also noted that the campus would have been notified by email at each step of the process.

Federal Title IX guidelines began requiring investigation of off-campus sexual harassment and violence in 2011. Jameson also reported harassment that occurred on campus that wasn’t sent to the dean of students.

Spear said retired Moscow Police Lt. Dave Lehmitz, who supervised the campus division, was the person who said during an April 25, 2013, meeting with Jameson that the university couldn’t investigate her accusations.

“I’m taking responsibility for a confusing situation with the policy,” Spear said. “I could probably stand here tonight and say I didn’t violate policy because we followed the policy that was on the book. Now, I wasn’t really aware of the confusing nature of the policies until I started doing some research.”

In 2012-13, Spear said, there “was no training on this campus about Title IX, no training about how you’re supposed to handle certain situations.” He said the athletic department hasn’t had “any issues with sexual assault” in the “recent past.”

“We have gone from where there was no training, policy confusion, to now we are putting our best foot forward to make sure that we are going to represent this campus in a right and positive way,” he said.

After Spear, the Senate listened to about an hour of testimony in the public forum. Speakers included a co-captain of the Vandals dance team, who spoke in favor of the resolution and said her teammates have been subjected to sexual harassment from athletes; women’s basketball captain Geraldine McCorkell, who spoke of a family atmosphere fostered by Spear; and several students who called for his dismissal.

Sarah Solomon, a founder of Students for Accountability and Safety and a key proponent of the resolution, closed the public testimony with her own words, a message from Jameson and a written statement from former distance runner Maggie Miller.

“It is a dangerous thing to give power to someone who doesn’t understand the depth of responsibility that comes with it,” Solomon said.

Miller reported to several athletic department members that she was threatened by football player Jahrie Level two weeks before Level was accused of assaulting Jameson. The harassment of Miller, which occurred in the Kibbie Dome training room, wasn’t reported to the dean of students office, either, until she and Jameson filed complaints in May 2013.

Miller informed Petrino, her track coach and a “low-level” member of the football staff, she said. She also contacted the Moscow Police Department. Petrino has said he doesn’t remember that conversation, but it’s reflected in the police report.

“I am confident that had Paul Petrino taken seriously the threat of violence against me by Jahrie Level and acted on my complaint ... Mairin Jameson would not have been sexually assaulted,” Miller wrote. “Myself and Mairin turned to the people that we believed we could trust – men in the athletic department that were in positions of power that we believed were there to protect us, but they did not protect us.”

After ASUI President McKenzie MacDonald spoke against the resolution – “You wanted action. I think President Staben has given that to you,” she said – senators read aloud anonymous statements submitted online and recounted some private conversations with members of the university community before opening debate.

The five senators who voted against the resolution included one who didn’t think it fit the ASUI constitution, one who said his constituents were against it, and one who said she didn’t think Spear was solely responsible for the policy mistake and wanted to defer to Staben.

The 10 who voted in favor were unwilling to forgive the mistakes made in Jameson’s case.

“This resolution is aiming to take action in a way that we are not familiar with. It is bold, controversial, demanding and a little scary,” senator Nicole Skinner said during debate. “This is about more than policy and trainings, and I’m tired of hearing otherwise. It is about Rob Spear’s consistent, unwavering disregard for the safety of students in his department.”

As the final votes were cast, the crowd of spectators that topped 100 at its peak broke into applause.

“The No. 1 takeaway from this, I hope for everybody, is that you need to believe survivors,” Yenne said. “So often, those voices are drowned out by people in power, and this situation is no different.”

Jameson, who works in California, and Miller, who is in law school, tracked the meeting from afar.

“I feel humbled and indebted to the ASUI senators, and to everyone who lent their voice and support for Mairin, myself and Idaho students everywhere,” Miller said. “This resolution was a bold step toward long-overdue change regarding a systemic problem at the University of Idaho.”

Chadd Cripe: 208-377-6398, @chaddcripe

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