MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents has launched an investigation into a leak of confidential information regarding the latest in a long line of sexual harassment allegations to be leveled against the school’s athletic department.
Regent Chairman Dean Johnson said a closed-door meeting was held on Thursday, one day after a television station reported that an official in the athletic department had violated the school’s sexual harassment policy.
The university provided little detail about the allegation itself, only saying it takes accusations against employees seriously and that it could not provide details because it is a private personnel matter. But the matter does mean the university is looking into another allegation of sexual harassment or assault after dealing with several cases in the last two years.
“Anytime you have allegations such as this within the university it’s not helpful,” Johnson said. “It will be dealt with in a judicious, fair way according to the procedures and policies of this university.”
Johnson also expressed concern about the leak to KSTP-TV, which reported on the allegations Wednesday night.
The board is calling on its 12 members and university employees with access to the confidential memo to sign affidavits stating they didn’t share the information. Outside experts will be hired to look at electronic communications of those with access to the memo. Johnson said five to six others outside of the board of regents had access to the information.
“We must establish credibility with the university, with faculty, with students, with the administration, with the legislature, the governor and the people of this state,” Johnson said. “We cannot do business if we violate the confidential, privileged communication as happened last evening.”
The university said it would have no further comment on the accusations. The university did not publicly identify the employee, who was not in the office Thursday and didn’t return messages left by The Associated Press.
KSTP-TV reported Wednesday that the official was investigated by the university’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office. KSTP reported that a regent provided reporters with an email from university officials to regents that said the investigation found the official sexually harassed another athletic department employee.
The accusation is the latest to hit a department that has been under fire in recent years.
In 2015, athletics director Norwood Teague resigned after two high-ranking university administrators reported he sexually harassed them at a senior leadership retreat. Teague acknowledged improper behavior and alcohol abuse when he stepped down. His deputy, Mike Ellis, resigned months later after unspecified complaints against him.
An external review found no fault with the “general climate” surrounding the issue of sexual harassment in the sports department, but it recommended that the university improve its response to sexual harassment and strengthen hiring procedures. At the time, Johnson said the university would take action to correct any problems.
Last year, the athletic department faced another image problem when 10 football players were suspended after the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action department found they violated the student conduct code following a September incident in which a woman claimed she was pressured into having sex with multiple football players.
The suspensions led other players to threaten a boycott of the Holiday Bowl – a threat they backed down from after details behind the allegation became public.
After final appeals were exhausted, four players ended up expelled, four had their punishments wiped out and two had their punishments reduced.
The university hired Mark Coyle last summer to replace Teague, with one of the biggest priorities being to clean up an athletic department that had seen so much scandal.
“I believe that director Coyle and his staff have done an excellent job of trying to change the culture within in University of Minnesota athletics, like every other college and unit within this university,” Johnson said. “Training has taken place, seminars have been given, people have been asked to be responsible at all levels. So there’s a situation that needs to be clarified and dealt with.”