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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
PAM STRICKLAND

The 28-page report summarizing an investigation into whether the former head of the recently renamed Office of Student Judicial Affairs at the University of Tennessee had inappropriate relationships with apparently long-gone student athletes reads like a Peyton Place-style rumor mill.

What really stood out to me, however, was the whining of UT Athletic Director Dave Hart.

Hart complained that Jenny Wright was "over-prosecuting" cases against athletes, according to the report. And that she was being asked to perform her job "in a certain way that she felt was not in the best interest of students."

And what she got for it was threats from then Director of Football Operations Brad Pendergrass that the Athletic Department could "take her down." And football coach Derek Dooley "could have (the) job" of then-Vice Chancellor for Student Life Tim Rogers.

The investigation by Beecher A. Bartlett Jr., an attorney with the firm Kramer Rayson, was conducted after an unnamed student athlete alleged that he had a sexual relationship with Wright as a quid pro quo for making certain judicial conduct charges to go away.

The report is heavily redacted to protect students under federal privacy laws, but it is clear that the original student left the university. He was never interviewed by Bartlett and stopped communicating with his own lawyer. Several other students were interviewed by Bartlett, and though many had heard rumors of relationships Wright reportedly had with students, none knew first-hand of any such relationships.

Wright quit in May 2013 as the rumor mill exploded, and Rogers retired abruptly that same month. We all know what happened to Dooley. Pendergrass, who did have a brief fling with Wright in 2010, according to the report, left the university in February of this year.

But let's get back to Hart. The thing about student athletes that I think athletic directors sometimes forget is that they are students first.

And the university is giving them an education that, if they stick around for four years and are on full scholarship, is worth upwards of $90,000 or $125,000, depending on whether tuition is calculated as in-state or out-of-state. That figure includes tuition, books and room and board.

Further, as David Blackburn, who worked in various capacities with the UT Athletic Department from 1993-2013 and is now athletic director at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, told Bartlett during his investigation, the Office of Student Affairs has never been lenient on student athletes because of the publicity they receive.

And the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, as Student Affairs was recently renamed, shouldn't be lenient on student athletes. Those students because of their high profile on campus should be setting a proper example.

They should be in class and doing their work. They shouldn't be making news for anything other than performing the duties of their scholarship or other good citizenship or student behavior. There shouldn't be late night shenanigans of the kind that were a regular occurrence at one time involving guns, drugs and underage drinking. It has been quiet recently.

UT football coach Butch Jones is a cop's son. I'm friends with outgoing Honors College Dean David R. Davies at the University of Southern Mississippi, who speaks very highly of Donnie Tyndall, so I'm thinking he'll keep the basketball guys in line.

All Hart needs to do is let the new Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards do its job.

 

June 13, 2014

 

 
 

 

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