Huntington University in Huntington, Ind., announced it has hired a law firm to independently review Title IX and sexual misconduct polices following allegations of sexual abuse in the track and cross-country programs.
An attorney representing two runners suing the university have accused the Christian college of attempting to "hide facts" by hiring the law firm, The Indy Star reported.
The attorney, Jon Little, said the university is "scared" of going to court.
In a statement issued Sunday morning, the university said it was “devastated and heartbroken” when made aware of allegations in a civil lawsuit filed Sept. 30 by Little.
An IndyStar investigation also disclosed a cult-like atmosphere around former running coach Nick Johnson and allegations of sexual misconduct and pressure to submit to injections they say may have been tied to a performance-enhancing doping scheme.
“Following this discovery many have voiced concern, and we want you to know that we hear you,” the university's statement said. “These allegations are not only disturbing, but also antithetical to everything we stand for. “
The statement comes after two separate petitions signed by students or alumni called for university leaders to be investigated or to resign. One petition initiated by Huntington students demands the resignations of Sherilyn Emberton, university president; Russ Degitz, chief operating officer, and Lori Culler, athletic director. As of 1 p.m. Sunday, the petition had nearly 800 signatures on change.org.
Huntington University said Katherine Nash of Lathrop GPM will lead the external review. According to the law firm’s website, Nash is experienced in leading sexual misconduct investigations and revising institutional policies.
"This is very typical of big institutions," Little said. "They hire a big law firm. They hide behind attorney/client privilege and attorney work product. The real discovery in this case is being done in the civil court system."
Little said he expects the university to ask that the lawsuit be dismissed.
Nick Johnson was fired in December 2020 and succeeded by Lauren, his wife. Lauren Johnson and Hines were placed on administrative leave Oct. 6.