Administration

Colorado Case Puts Focus on Colleges’ Handling of Alleged Domestic Violence

June 13, 2017

Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Ken Salazar, of the firm WilmerHale, prepared one of two reports presented to the regents of the U. of Colorado on the handling of domestic-violence allegations against a former assistant football coach.

During the weeks leading up to the University of Colorado at Boulder’s December appearance in the Alamo Bowl, athletics officials had more serious matters on their minds than winning games.

Investigators agreed that the university's reporting requirements were unclear. All the more reason, they concluded, for seeking outside guidance.

Earlier that month, a woman had contacted the head football coach, Mike MacIntyre, to report that one of his assistant coaches, Joe Tumpkin, had physically and emotionally abused her over a two-year period. She didn’t want him fired, she said, but she did want him to get help and counseling.

Based on that call, Mr. MacIntyre did what he said he had been trained to do: He told his boss.

It’s unclear how much detail he went into in that seven-minute conversation with the athletics director, Rick George. Mr. MacIntyre said he described the caller’s claim that the assistant coach had physically abused her on multiple occasions. Mr. George said he only remembers hearing of one instance.

Mr. George, in turn, contacted the university’s chancellor, Philip P. DiStefano, who checked the university’s policy and determined that no further reporting was necessary. The alleged incident had happened off campus, he figured, and the woman wasn’t connected to the university. It wasn’t until a month later, on January 9, that the coach’s ex-girlfriend, who says she was bitten, choked, and dragged around by her hair by the assistant coach, finally heard back from the university on her complaints.

All three administrators received minor sanctions on Monday for failing to take their reporting responsibilities far enough. Meanwhile, questions are reverberating about how universities should respond when incidents of domestic violence or sexual misconduct happen off campus, and when administrators need to go beyond the chain of command to contact Title IX officials or the police.

Some people are also questioning whether Colorado put football first by allowing Mr. Tumpkin to coach in a bowl game before he was forced out. Even though the woman told the head coach of the allegations weeks before the team was slated to play in the Alamo Bowl, the head coach still tapped Mr. Tumpkin to work during the game.

A week before the game, Mr. Tumpkin was slapped with a protective order by the police. About a week after the game, the university suspended him. Three weeks later, in late January, facing five felony assault counts, Mr. Tumpkin resigned his coaching position under pressure. He has not entered a plea or publicly commented on the charges against him. A court hearing is scheduled for later this month.

A report prepared for the university by Ken Salazar, the former U.S. secretary of the interior who’s now a partner at the law firm WilmerHale, concluded that all three administrators should have known that they had a responsibility to report the abuse to someone other than a supervisor, but it also said that there was no evidence of ill intent.

Based on that report and other documents made available online, the University of Colorado system’s president, Bruce D. Benson, announced on Monday that the flagship’s chancellor had been suspended for 10 days without pay, while Mr. George and Mr. MacIntyre each will donate $100,000 to groups that combat domestic violence. The money the chancellor would have earned during that time will go to programs that support students and employees who are victims of domestic or dating violence. All three men also received letters of reprimand.

Ken McConnellogue, a university spokesman, said that Mr. George’s penalty "is not insignificant" considering his salary. The athletic director’s total compensation is more than $800,000.

Peter R. Ginsberg, a lawyer for Mr. Tumpkin’s ex-girlfriend, countered that the punishments amounted to "a slap on the wrist."

Lack of Training

Investigators agreed with the chancellor that the university’s reporting requirements were unclear when it came to incidents that happen off campus. All the more reason, they concluded, that Mr. DiStefano should have called for outside guidance.

In a statement on Monday, the chancellor said he "sincerely regrets" that he didn’t immediately contact the university’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance after learning of the abuse allegations. "Rather than trying to determine for myself if her complaint fell within our jurisdiction, I should have contacted our campus experts, who would have made sure that she received an immediate response from the university," he wrote.

“We do not find that the proffered reasons justify the failure to report ... or the failure to exercise timely supervisory authority.”

Investigators at Cozen O’Connor, one of the law firms hired by the university to investigate, concluded that lack of knowledge and training were not sufficient excuses for failing to report the allegations against Mr. Tumpkin.

"Each of the parties has offered an alternative explanation for the failure to report the allegation," the investigators wrote. "While we share those explanations here, as discussed in greater detail below, we do not find that the proffered reasons justify the failure to report to OIEC or the failure to exercise timely supervisory authority."

Details of the controversy emerged in an article that appeared in February in Sports Illustrated and in coverage by the Boulder newspaper, The Daily Camera.

Instead of reporting the charges against Mr. Tumpkin to the university’s compliance office, athletics officials took steps that insulated themselves and the information they had from the appropriate university officials, the investigators found.

Both Mr. MacIntyre and Mr. George told investigators that they had had no training in their responsibilities under Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination or misconduct at educational institutions that receive federal funds, or the Clery Act, the federal campus-safety law, since the online modules they completed in 2013. "Mr. George said he had not read or reviewed the university’s sexual misconduct policies, and that he did not realize intimate partner abuse was covered under Title IX," the Cozen O’Connor investigators wrote.

That is despite widespread national attention paid to sexual violence in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Pennsylvania State University and the alleged coverup of sexual violence among football players at Baylor University.

In both cases, university leaders were faulted for not taking their responsibilities to report abuse seriously enough.

Sexual Assault Under Investigation

The Chronicle's online investigation tracker collects comprehensive information about each of the more than 300 federal inquiries into colleges' handling of sexual assault. Browse the tool now  and sign up to receive alerts about important developments.

Read more about sexual assault on campus:

In the Time of Trump, Colleges Start to ‘Make Title IX Our Own’
How a 20-Page Letter Changed the Way Higher Education Handles Sexual Assault
An Uncertain Future for Title IX-Compliance Consultants
What the Future Holds for the Federal Crackdown on Campus Sexual Assault
Should Colleges Be Judging Rape?

The spotlight on these issues has been further intensified by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. More than 200 colleges face investigations over their handling of sexual-assault complaints.

The investigators cited other reasons Mr. DiStefano should have known to share the information about the reported abuse. He has more than 40 years of experience at the university, the investigators noted, and had ordered a 2014 audit of Title IX compliance. He also supervised the creation of new policies for following the federal gender-equity law as well as the hiring of Valerie Simons as head of the Office of Institutional Education and Compliance.

He was provost when, in 2007, the university agreed to settlements totaling $2.85 million paid to two woman who charged they had been raped by several football recruits at a 2001 party. That case helped lead to the 2005 resignation of the system’s president, Elizabeth Hoffman. The football coach, athletics director and chancellor all retained their jobs at the time.

The investigators also mentioned potentially troubling steps taken by the athletics officials. Shortly after speaking with the woman who accused Mr. Tumpkin of abusing her, Mr. MacIntyre consulted an adjunct law professor at the university for advice. That lawyer, Lisa Wayne, had previously represented student-athletes in their Title IX complaints against the university. Mr. MacIntyre said that acting on the advice from Ms. Wayne, he blocked calls and text messages to his personal cellphone from Mr. Tumpkin’s ex-girlfriend. Ms. Wayne did not respond to an email request to comment on this story.

Culture Change

One higher-education lawyer who advises colleges on Title IX compliance offered an explanation of why, even with all the attention being paid to reporting requirements, some people might fail to take appropriate action.

“It has been a challenge to get people to reimagine the reporting structure they've always known; that you go to your supervisor, and only your supervisor.”

The federal reporting requirements are not only complex, but require a culture change that "goes against generations of training," said Peter F. Lake, a professor of law and director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University.

"It has been a challenge to get people to reimagine the reporting structure they’ve always known; that you go to your supervisor, and only your supervisor" when you receive a complaint, he said. "Now, people are being asked to skip their supervisors and go straight to the Title IX office or the police."

Others, though, suspect that administrators are too eager to look the other way or just do the minimum required when allegations of abuse are raised.

"It’s not enough to pass it up the chain; you have a duty to be sure it’s received by the appropriate person," said Laura L. Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, a victims’-rights group.

"How shameless that this information was available," she said, "but the Alamo Bowl was put first and foremost."

Eric Kelderman contributed to this article.

Eric Kelderman writes about money and accountability in higher education, including such areas as state policy, accreditation, and legal affairs. You can find him on Twitter @etkeld, or email him at eric.kelderman@chronicle.com.

Katherine Mangan writes about community colleges, completion efforts, and job training, as well as other topics in daily news. Follow her on Twitter @KatherineMangan, or email her at katherine.mangan@chronicle.com.