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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Faculty call for systemic change within athletics department

Daily file photo by Victoria Benefield
Scott Hall. The Faculty Senate passed resolutions to help ensure the safety of student athletes in 2021, but six faculty members say University leaders “did not deliver.”

Six Weinberg profs are urging reform to better ensure safety within the NU’s athletics department after former members of Northwestern’s football team came forward with allegations of hazing, including coerced sexual acts. 

 In 2021, they spoke out against the appointment of Mike Polisky — one of four defendants named in a federal lawsuit filed by a member of the cheerleading team who said administrators ignored her report of sexual harassment — as athletic director, who resigned nine days after the promotion. 

After his resignation, the Faculty Senate passed three resolutions requesting “information about an ongoing university investigation into events associated with the cheer squad; an assessment of the need for training and accountability measures within the athletics department; and a review of operations of the Office of Equity (now called Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance) and its handling of the cheer team incidents.”

“There have been some missed opportunities to try to go in and really figure out what the issues are, find the weak spots and figure out how to fix them,” said Prof. Susan Pearson, who wrote the statement alongside Profs. Caitlin Fitz, Jessica Winegar, Kate Masur, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Amy Stanley.  

According to Masur, the requested needs assessment and report back to the Faculty Senate Executive Committee did not happen. University leaders “did not deliver” on the resolutions, which were intended to help prevent abuse passed in 2021, they said in an op-ed published Wednesday.  

“I can’t tell you why that didn’t happen,” Masur said. “I think it says something about the relative lack of power of the Faculty Senate, and also the powerfulness of the athletics department. It seems like what the Faculty Senate did really didn’t matter in this situation.”

The tenured faculty members penned an open letter to University President Michael Schill, Athletic Director Derrick Gragg and University Board of Trustees chair Peter Barris Monday, calling for comprehensive action to protect student athletes.

This time they compel the University to “focus attention and concentration on making cultural change,” Stanley said. Their open letter asks for transparency on the findings of the investigation (for the results to be released “to the fullest extent permitted by law, contingent on the consent of the victims”), support from the administration for students who experienced hazing and trauma, and avenues for students to feel comfortable coming forward with concerns, potentially through a dedicated ombudsperson or tip line. 

Outreach to other faculty members forms part of their strategy to drive the University toward internal reform. 

“We’re just trying to broaden the base of support for what we’re doing and also publicize it to get people paying attention,” Hurd said. 

They have heard from Weinberg, Feinberg, Pritzker, McCormick, Medill, Kellogg and School of Communication faculty, former football players, students and community members who have offered support, according to Pearson. 

As faculty who “care about what happens on campus,” the faculty members said they hope the University will now “seize the moment to showcase how beleaguered sports programs can turn around a culture of abuse,” according to their op-ed. 

“When are we going to clean it up? The six of us really feel like if not now, then when?” Hurd said. “How many more students do we need to traumatize, and how many more donors do we need to offend with these horrible, horrible headlines about Northwestern? It would be nice if we could see some real change now.”

Email: [email protected] 

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