State Board dismisses Idaho AD Rob Spear
Mairin Jameson started this nearly seven months ago with a blog post inspired by the #metoo movement. The former diver was alone in publicly questioning how longtime University of Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear dealt with female student-athletes.
On Thursday, the State Board of Education fired Spear — taking into account Jameson’s story of a mishandled sexual-assault case and those of other women who stepped up after her.
Eight former U of I female athletes expressed concerns with Spear’s leadership to the Idaho Statesman this year, including one Vandals hall of famer, two potential hall of famers and a longtime administrator. At least four of them contacted the State Board, too.
The ASUI student senate offered its support in April with a resolution asking for Spear’s resignation, with backing from University of Idaho Students for Accountability and Safety.
“It’s so powerful to me,” Jameson said Thursday. “It doesn’t surprise me that there were other stories like mine. ... When I first started this, (Spear’s removal) wasn’t my intent or my goal, but the more I learned, the more I realized this was the right thing for the University of Idaho.”
The State Board terminated Spear’s contract for “convenience” rather than cause, meaning Spear will be paid for the time left on his deal. The vote was unanimous in an open meeting at Idaho State University. The board considered information from the university counsel, Spear, the university community, the public and the independent investigative report into sexual assault and harassment incidents in 2012-13.
The State Board pointed out in a statement that the investigative report highlighted shortcomings by the university in providing training and notification of policy changes that contributed to the athletic department’s mistakes handling Jameson’s 2013 sexual-assault complaint against football player Jahrie Level. The report also concluded that Spear’s actions were “inadequate,” including the way he communicated with Jameson and her parents.
The report hinted at another issue with Spear’s management: “Some on campus feel Dr. Spear attempts to improperly intimidate those who take contrary positions or challenge him.”
“After considering this information and what’s in the university’s best interest and the students’ best interest, I move to terminate for convenience pursuant to Dr. Spear’s employment agreement with the university,” board member Emma Atchley said.
Linda Clark, president of the State Board of Education, declined to answer questions on the Spear decision because it was a personnel matter. Chuck Staben, president of the University of Idaho, declined an interview request.
Pete Isakson will remain Idaho’s acting athletic director for the “foreseeable future,” the university said in a statement. Isakson has served in that role since Spear was placed on administrative leave April 3.
“Rob Spear learned about the termination from his wife this morning shortly after the vote. Dr. Spear has still not received notice of termination as required by his contract. Dr. Spear will continue to follow the terms of his administrative leave until otherwise notified,” said Spear’s attorney, Kathryn Marsh.
Former distance runner Hannah Kiser, a 20-time conference champion, told the Statesman last week that Spear said that she wouldn’t get into the Vandals’ hall of fame if she transferred to Washington State for her final season after graduating from the school. Spear blocked her transfer and she left Idaho anyway, ending her career.
Kiser wrote a letter to the State Board this week urging members to listen to the women who have criticized Spear.
“I was very overjoyed to hear that he was fired,” Kiser said. “The voices of all the women who came forward were not just ignored, which often happens. But it’s just the beginning of culture change at Idaho and more transparency. It’s going to take a lot of time for people to forgive everything that has happened to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if more stories come out now that the fear of Rob being reinstated is gone. And I hope people do come forward, because it’s important to have your voice and your story heard.”
Catherine Yenne, of Nampa, who was the primary author of the ASUI resolution as vice president, heard concerns about the culture in athletics before former athletes started speaking out publicly, she said, which required those women to face “a lot of vulnerability.”
“So it feels good to have that pay off,” she said. “And I’m also really excited for future athletes, especially female athletes, that decide to come to the University of Idaho, because I really hope this is the start of a larger culture change.”
Spear has worked at Idaho since 1989. He was named interim athletic director in October 2003 and promoted to the full-time job in January 2004. His latest contract paid $196,958 per year through Feb. 17, 2020, including supplemental income. He will be paid based on a $181,958.40 salary, but that amount will be offset by any income he receives from employment in the meantime, according to his contract.
The State Board stepped in to make the final decision on Spear because Staben recused himself, citing a conflict of interest, according to a statement from the board. The State Board met in executive session Wednesday afternoon to consider personnel issues at Idaho State and Idaho. The meeting lasted 2 hours, 10 minutes. Staben was called in during the meeting and stayed for about 10 minutes. No information from Staben was considered in making the Spear decision, according to the board’s statement.
Earlier this year, the board and Staben agreed that the president’s contract would not be renewed beyond the 2018-19 school year.
Spear had been on paid administrative leave for more than four months while the university hired two independent investigators to study his department’s handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints in 2012-13. Three women, including Jameson and distance runner Maggie Miller, made complaints against Level with school officials and the Moscow Police Department during that school year. Spear and the university acknowledged that Title IX policy wasn’t followed in Jameson’s case.
Spear has said he didn’t know at the time about the first case involving Level, in November 2012, or that Miller had called Moscow police in April 2013 to accuse Level of making a threat. Jameson’s complaint, which included harassment accusations, came after the other two. Spear has cited confusing policies and a lack of Title IX training while discussing his actions in 2012-13.
Better handling of the 2012 case could have prevented the 2013 incidents, Staben told the Statesman after the investigative report was released July 31.
Miller said she was “very pleased” with the State Board’s decision Thursday but couldn’t overlook “the damage that has been done.”
“A job loss is not compensation for lives that have been broken and negatively impacted forever,” Miller said via text. “I am proud of you, Mairin Jameson.”