Petition led by former cheerleader demands reconsideration, independent investigation of Mike Polisky


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Ryan Field. Hundreds of community members have signed a petition urging the University to reconsider its appointment of Mike Polisky as athletic director.

Yunkyo Kim and Sophia Scanlan

Days after Mike Polisky was announced as Northwestern’s next athletic director, hundreds of community members have signed a Thursday petition demanding an independent investigation of his time at NU.

Former cheerleader Erika Carter (SESP ‘18)  posted the petition, which had about 550 signatures as of Thursday night. The petition came after some community controversy around Polisky’s appointment due to his handling of complaints about harassment and discrimination. 

In January, Weinberg senior Hayden Richardson filed a federal lawsuit that named Polisky as a defendant. The lawsuit alleged that Polisky did not allow Richardson to meet with former Athletic Director Jim Phillips about complaints regarding sexual exploitation of cheerleaders, and accused her of “fabricating evidence.” In a February Daily investigation, sources also claimed that Polisky did not adequately handle allegations of racial discrimination within the cheerleading program.

The petition urges the University to release the findings of an independent investigation “as to whether Polisky acted lawfully and with integrity when responding to cheerleader complaints.” 

Carter, who was featured in The Daily’s investigation, said she created the petition because she feels the hire goes against NU’s promises for social justice commitments. The petition cited University President Morton Schapiro’s June 2020 announcement of the University’s commitment to racial and social justice.

“I think that (the University) is doing it for publicity,” Carter said. “I think they’re doing it for donors. I think they’re doing it to attract diverse students, but honestly this promotion… it’s a complete contradiction.” 

In a Thursday message to the community, Schapiro said he interviewed seven of the athletic director candidates. He added that the University used an independent investigator to analyze concerns.

The University should reconsider Polisky’s appointment by conducting an independent investigation on the cheerleaders’ claims, Carter said. If the investigation confirms culpability, she said he should be fired from NU entirely. 

Carter said she hopes people don’t lose sight of the fact that the athletic director oversees all sports and not just cheerleading.

“Polisky getting promoted isn’t really just an affront to cheerleaders,” Carter said. “There are bigger repercussions… I think it was deeper than just the cheerleaders being affected.”

The petition also comes a day after six NU women faculty members penned an open letter to Provost Kathleen Hagerty expressing frustrations with the University’s appointment of Polisky. 

Political science Prof. Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, who signed in the open letter, also added her name to Carter’s petition.

Given the University’s announcements about social justice commitments, Hurd said the Polisky selection is “public humiliation.” Even though the faculty are not directly involved in athletics themselves, she said she still wants to hold NU accountable. 

“We just care about the students, and we care about the University’s reputation and we care that the University actually puts its money where its mouth is,” Hurd said. “And so to see this — it is actually just disgusting.”

NU had an opportunity to make an athletic director appointment symbolic of its promises to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, Hurd added. She said she wants the University to hire a new candidate for the position who is more in line with NU’s proclaimed commitments to justice. 

A current cheerleader, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of repercussions, also signed the petition. 

She said the decision is especially important to BIPOC members of the cheerleading program. She added that the cheerleaders deserve an explanation about why the University selected Polisky over other recommended candidates — two of whom were women of color.

“I’m hoping that they at least take some time to consider their decision,” the cheerleader said. “There should at least be more thought and effort really put into what they are doing. Even if not that — acknowledge our concerns.”   

Email: [email protected], [email protected] 

Twitter: @YunkyoMoonK, @sophia_scanlan 

Related Stories:

‘A slap in the face’: Faculty criticize appointment of Mike Polisky to athletic director, call for transparency, accountability

LTE: Open Letter to Northwestern Leadership and Community on Cheer Team Incidents

In Focus: After the firing of Northwestern’s cheerleading coach, questions remain about the handling of racial discrimination within the program