A group of current and former CSU athletes requested the removal of Athletic Director Joe Parker and other top athletic administrators after meeting for the first time with university President Joyce McConnell.
The growing tension between the Colorado State University student-athletes and athletic and university administration focuses on what the athletes assert is systemic mishandling of COVID-19 protocols; allegations of racial insensitivity and abuse; and, most recently, sexual misconduct cases.
The five former and current student-athletes said during a Friday virtual meeting that they initiated with McConnell — and in related interviews — that they have exhausted all efforts working with the current administration.
The Coloradoan obtained a recording of the meeting.
The athletes said the time for “training” athletic administrators who they claim have violated policies and lost the trust of student-athletes is over and the time for their terminations is here.
Former CSU swimmer Ida Donohue told McConnell that athletic administration not only allowed these incidents to happen but encouraged them and continues to do so.
“I can make it blatantly clear to you that athletic administrators you have in place are aware of these issues and the specifics of these issues and are actively, every single day, choosing not act on them,” Donohue said in the meeting. “I’m not asking you to sit down with them to train them; I’m asking for their removal.”
CSU has continually declined the Coloradoan’s requests for direct virtual interviews with any administrators since it began reporting on student-athlete athletic staff allegations in early August.
Diana Prieto, CSU vice president for Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX, sent an email to the university community Friday announcing her department would “continue to work closely with Joe Parker, Director of Athletics, and his leadership in the coming months to address issues of culture in CSU Athletics, specifically around reporting and non-retaliation in response to Title IX concerns.”
“In essence, this work is changing the culture in athletics, in connection with reporting and in connection with complaints,” Prieto said during Friday’s virtual meeting.
Donohue, who was the impacted party involving a sexual misconduct case against a fellow student-athlete, said federal and university policies are in place to protect student-athletes but aren’t being followed, continually placing student-athletes at risk.
She told McConnell that was made clear with CSU’s handling of student Katie Schiller’s lawsuit claiming repeated sexual assault at the hands of prominent booster Michael Best while Schiller was a server at Canvas Stadium during the 2019 football season.
Donohue told McConnell that had Parker taken steps to address sexual misconduct issues she brought to him during several meetings prior to Schiller’s case, Schiller would not have been put in the same situation.
“(Parker) kept telling me he was a father and that he cared about the student-athletes on campus almost as much as he did his own children,” Donohue said. “I can promise you that if a father found out that his daughter was sexually assaulted that I cannot fathom putting that young woman back into that position.”
McConnell said when she became the university’s first female president in July 2019, she heard about issues with the university’s Title IX office generally but not specific to athletics. As a result of those concerns, she restructured the office, named Prieto to oversee it and elevated Prieto’s position to cabinet level in May.
She pointed to Friday’s announcement that Prieto’s office would work more closely with the athletic administration, which stemmed from the investigation’s recommendations and the Coloradoan’s Wednesday story on sexual misconduct cases. She also pointed to the athletic administration investigation she launched in September.
She acknowledged Friday that reports of Title IX compliance concerns came as a result of interviews conducted during that investigation.
“Our responses show how seriously we take everyone who spoke to those investigators,” McConnell said in the virtual meeting.
The Coloradoan has asked for the Title IX reports from the investigation, but CSU denied that request, citing Title IX confidentiality policy. CSU also previously stated in an email that it would not provide Title IX report and investigation cases from the five years prior to Parker becoming athletic director, saying it would require “intensive effort” to retrieve that data. CSU did provide data for the past five years, during Parker’s tenure.
The Coloradoan sought to compare and contrast the data before and during Parker’s tenure to bring context to the issue.
Despite the investigation report being released Oct. 7, CSU said in a Friday email that it has not received an invoice of the cost of the approximately two-month investigation by law firm Husch Blackwell.
A CSU faculty council member said Prieto and Jannine Mohr, deputy general counsel in CSU’s Office of General Council, will attend its virtual meeting Dec. 1 to address faculty concerns regarding these issues. The meeting is at 4 p.m. and open to the public.
Student-athletes in the virtual meeting and in interviews said McConnell never reached out to student-athletes and athletic staff for input before announcing to the university community her action plan resulting from the investigation. They said that inaction in essence discounted complaints launched by student-athletes and staff who fear retaliation.
“Reading your (action plan) email statement, this is essentially patting the university on the back about dealing with racial insensitivity and everything being hunky-dory and calling Brooke Hudson (a Black volleyball player who publicly criticized the investigation) a liar in talking about the racial insensitivity that she has experienced on campus,” Donohue said.
McConnell said she had not previously received complaints from student-athletes.
“I would have met with people earlier had I known,” she said. “Without people coming forward to us, this is the first time I’m able to have that conversation.”
Current tennis player Emma Corwin and current softball player Jordan Acosta pointed out during the virtual meeting that they sent emails regarding these issues to McConnell prior to the investigation and never received a response.
They also said McConnell’s words about taking sexual misconduct concerns seriously don’t match her actions.
It was insensitive toward sexual misconduct victims, they said, for McConnell to announce her action plan the same day a Coloradoan story outlined misconduct complaints, and for athletic administrator Shalini Shanker to repeatedly remove a letter of support for those victims from a student-athlete organization Instagram account.
They pointed to the continued employment of Steve Cottingham, CSU deputy assistant athletic director, who resigned under pressure as the former athletic director at Marquette while its athletic department dealt with sexual misconduct issues. They also said using Urban Meyer as a consultant to hire the head football coach in December after his suspension at Ohio State for his handling of domestic abuse allegations against an assistant coach are proof of the administration’s true feelings.
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