Illustration by Carly Schulman
Nine days after his official announcement as Northwestern’s next athletic director, Mike Polisky resigned from the position Wednesday night and will be departing the University.
“Over the last 10 days, it has become clear to me that the current challenges will not allow me to effectively lead our department, especially during these unsettling times in college athletics,” Polisky said in a statement.
The news was first reported by Shannon Ryan of The Chicago Tribune.
Polisky, who served as the Deputy Athletic Director for External Affairs and has worked in the University’s athletic department since 2010, had been promoted to replace Jim Phillips after he was hired as the next commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Robert Gundlach — a professor of linguistics and NU’s faculty athletics representative to the NCAA and the Big Ten — will serve as interim athletic director, according to a Wednesday evening statement from University President Morton Schapiro. Gundlach previously served in the same role in 2008 ahead of Phillips’ hire to replace Mark Murphy, who became the president and chief executive officer of the Green Bay Packers.
Schapiro wrote that he will share information about the search process for the University’s next athletic director in the coming months.
The hire was met with backlash from members of the Northwestern community, as Polisky was named a defendant in a federal lawsuit alleging sexual harassment within the cheerleading program. Cheerleaders also said Polisky did not sufficiently respond to allegations of racial discrimination within the program in a February investigation by The Daily Northwestern.
In the lawsuit, former cheerleader Hayden Richardson alleged that Northwestern did not properly handle complaints she and other cheerleaders raised around sexual harassment. Richardson said Polisky accused her of “fabricating evidence” and did not allow her to meet with Phillips.
Ryan previously reported that some search committee members were hesitant to hire Polisky because of the lawsuit, but others supported him because of his work with Phillips in turning Northwestern’s athletic department into one of the best in the nation.
University spokesman Jon Yates told the Daily on May 3 that the University filed a motion to dismiss “most of the complaint, including the individual defendants” and Northwestern is “vigorously fighting the claims.”
A few days after the official announcement, former cheerleader Erika Carter (SESP ‘18) created a petition that called for an independent investigation “as to whether Polisky acted lawfully and with integrity when responding to cheerleader complaints.”
Then, over 200 Northwestern students, faculty and staff and Evanston community members marched from The Rock to University President Morton Schapiro’s house last Friday to protest Polisky’s appointment.
“My love and respect for Northwestern and for our student-athletes, coaches and staff are greater than my own desire to lead the department,” Polisky wrote in the statement. “I do not want to be a distraction to our incredible staff as it pursues the collective goal of helping our student-athletes become the best they can be.”
The announcement of Polisky’s resignation came hours after over 140 current and former student athletes, alumni, donors and athletic department employees wrote a letter to the Board of Trustees in support of Polisky.
On May 6, Schapiro published a statement defending the hire of Polisky as athletic director. He wrote that an independent investigator found “no information to suggest” Polisky violated policy.
Additionally, Schapiro said Polisky’s background was checked in interviews by a former Federal Bureau of Investigation supervisory special agent and a review from a former federal judge, which gave him “further confidence” in the hire.
Schapiro chose Polisky over three other candidates recommended by the search committee: former NU basketball player and sports executive Anucha Browne, Duke Deputy Athletic Director Nina King and NU’s Deputy Athletic Director for Administration and Policy Janna Blais — who previously served as the University’s interim athletic director.
During Polisky’s tenure, Russell Payne was hired to succeed Tim Lenahan as Northwestern’s Men’s Soccer head coach.
“Last week, when I announced Mike Polisky as the next Vice President for Athletics & Recreation at Northwestern, I acknowledged his important role in helping transform the department into a model for excellence both on the playing field and in the classroom,” Schapiro said in his statement Wednesday night.
“Today, Mike told me he is stepping down from his new role and leaving Northwestern. I understand and respect his decision. I truly appreciate all Mike has done for the University.”
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— NU community pickets in front of Schapiro’s house, protest selection of Mike Polisky as AD
— President Schapiro defends appointment of Mike Polisky to athletic director in message to community
— Petition led by former cheerleader demands reconsideration, independent investigation of Mike Polisky