CSU governing board states support of athletic leadership, critics angered

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Colorado State University's Board of Governors issued a statement Friday in support of the leadership in the university's athletic department, angering those who have been critical and say their concerns have not been heard or addressed.

Colorado State University’s Board of Governors issued a statement in support of the athletic department’s leadership Friday that further inflamed student-athletes and faculty members who have been critical of the university’s handling of reports of sexual violence, racial insensitivity and violations of COVID-19 protocols.

“Recently, there have been many allegations surrounding the culture within the Department of Athletics at Colorado State University,” the statement reads. “We respect the experiences of individual student-athletes, and our commitment to student safety is unambiguous. We believe the Department of Athletics is aligned with these views and that the facts paint a rather different picture of the culture of the Department of Athletics than what has been alleged.”

The statement goes on to back the university’s internal processes “to investigate and adjudicate any allegations and complaints.” It cites an external audit in 2011 of the athletic department’s Title IX compliance, an external review of CSU’s Title IX policies and practices in 2018 and outside investigations released Oct. 7 of this year concerning allegations of racial inequalities and COVID-19 compliance within the athletic department as proof of the university’s “commitment to be self-assessing and always striving to improve.”

None of those reviews, the statement said, identified any “systemic abnormalities” and the “modest suggestions for process improvements were made and have been acted upon with seriousness and a commitment to continuous improvement.”

The investigation:Report shows support for athletic administration, new allegations against Steve Addazio

It went on to note that complaints within the athletic department are “evaluated and adjudicated by the appropriate arm of the University’s investigative and disciplinary structures: The Office of Equal Opportunity, the Office of Title IX Programs and Gender Equity, Human Resources and/or the Student Resolution Center; not by the Department of Athletics.”

It concluded by saying “calls for major changes within the Athletic Department leadership and challenges to the integrity of University leadership are not fully informed and unwarranted.”

The Board of Governors, through a CSU System spokesperson, said it would offer no additional comments on the topic.

Critics of the athletics department’s handling of their concerns and allegations wasted no time speaking out.

“Honestly, it’s pretty disrespectful,” said softball player Jordan Acosta, one of CSU’s representatives on the Mountain West Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. “I was having a conversation with a couple other student-athletes about it, and it’s interesting how a whole Board or Governors is able to make those kind of blanket statements without talking to any student-athletes or any staff members who have seen firsthand the issues we have raised.

“To completely dismiss and gaslight us who have put our name out there and experienced these issues is infuriating.”

During a virtual meeting of the Faculty Council earlier this week, Acosta shared her concerns that the athletic department leadership, and now the university leadership as a whole, dismisses complaints raised by athletes without really addressing them. Another female athlete had emailed a letter to the Faculty Council that day about the fears many shared in their dealings with athletic director Joe Parker, deputy athletic director Steve Cottingham and NCAA compliance director and senior women’s administrator Shalini Shanker.

“Their words do not reflect their actions, and because of this, athletes do not feel safe or protected,” the letter states.

Opinion:CSU supports victims of sexual harassment, discrimination and violence

That struck a chord with the Faculty Council, which spent more than 40 minutes grilling CSU President Joyce McConnell and deputy general counsel Jannine Mohr with questions about the athletic department’s leadership and what was being done to address the allegations current and former athletes and athletic department staff members had made about the handling of reports of sexual harassment and assault, COVID-19 violations and racial inequities.

Jane Robbe Rhodes, a member of the Board of Governors, attended the Faculty Council meeting Tuesday, as did Stephanie Clemons, the faculty representative to the Board of Governors.

Earlier:CSU Faculty Council critical of president’s response to concerns about athletic department

Acosta and a handful of other CSU athletes met with McConnell on Nov. 20 to share their concerns and said they felt like they were not taken seriously. A meeting they had scheduled earlier that day with a representative of the Board of Governors and Sue Doe, chair of the Faculty Council, was canceled, Acosta said, with the recommendation that the athletes first meet with Diana Prieto, a CSU vice president and director of the university’s Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX that McConnell had created in February to address concerns raised in the 2018 external review of Title IX policy.

That meeting still hasn’t taken place, Acosta said. 

Faculty member Antonio Pedros-Gascon, a professor in the department of foreign language and literature and member of the Faculty Council, shared Acosta’s concerns.

“I believe that the students’ demands are not really being heard or attended to,” he said. “And I think it’s very sad that there seems to be what several of us would consider a lack of engagement to really address the issues.”

Former CSU swimmer Ida Donohue, who spoke out publicly about her concerns of how the athletic department handled allegations of sexual harassment and assault, read the statement Friday and said it was typical of the way McConnell and other administrators have responded to the concerns she and other athletes have brought forward.

“You have young women coming forward, putting their name on the line, and none of the members of Board of Governors, none of the athletic administration, and no one from the president’s office can respond individually?” she said.

“… The statement said to utilize the processes in place when we have a concern. Specifically, what processes? Please elaborate, because many individuals have come forward in a variety of ways and nothing is done.”

Contact Coloradoan reporter Kelly Lyell at kellylyell@coloradoan.com, follow him on Twitter @KellyLyell and find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KellyLyell.news. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.