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NU Female Faculty Protest Promotion of Polisky to AD

Paul Steinbach

Six female Northwestern University faculty members sent an open letter Wednesday to NU provost Kathleen Hagerty demanding greater transparency in the decision to promote Mike Polisky to the position of athletic director.

The women plan to picket Friday afternoon, marching from campus to president Morton Schapiro’s home to express opposition to the decision to hire Polisky, Northwestern’s deputy athletic director for external affairs since 2010. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Polisky is part of an ongoing investigation by a university-hired law firm and is one of four defendants along with the university in a lawsuit filed by a cheerleader who said she and others were sexually exploited and harassed. The suit, filed by Hayden Richardson, claims Polisky was dismissive of her complaints in a meeting and accused her of fabricating evidence.

“We are alarmed by this decision and, indeed, embarrassed on behalf of the university,” the letter signed by the six faculty members read in part, according to the Tribune. “We believe that, at the very least, before Polisky is formally hired, the university must commission and make public an independent, transparent, third-party investigation that demonstrates that Polisky performed his legally mandated duties and acted with integrity when addressing the concerns of the cheerleaders and their allies.”

Northwestern has filed a motion to dismiss “most of the complaint, including the individual defendants,” a university spokesperson told the Tribune on Sunday. “The university has reviewed the complaint and denies that Northwestern violated any law, including Title IX.”

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, a political science professor and the Crown chair of Middle East studies, signed both this week's letter and one signed in February by 80 female faculty demanding greater transparency from Schapiro, Hagerty and other officials after the lawsuit went public.

“Where are the facts and where is the evidence they’re basing this [hire] on? They owe us transparency," Shakman Hurd told the Tribune this week. "I think there’s a lot of disappointment. We want to make clear we’re not going to lie down, and they can’t continually push women and people of color to the side.”

Erika Carter, a Northwestern cheerleader from 2016 to 2018, said in previous reports that she and other Black cheerleaders were discriminated against by former cheer coach Pam Bonnevier, who stopped working for the university in October, and that Polisky dismissed her complaints about racist policies.

“I think it’s a failure for the university,” Carter told the Tribune, referring to Polisky's promotion. “I’m not sure how they came to that decision, especially because it could have been filled with someone competent who could lead in a good direction. It’s a big failure and a big regression from the statements from the university [about diversity and inclusion].

“It’s important for someone at the helm of the athletic department to promote the right culture, and I don’t think Mike Polisky will do that.”

Northwestern announced Polisky’s promotion Monday and plans to hold a news conference to formally introduce him early next week. At least three members of the university search committee have expressed reservations about the hire, as have multiple members of the board of trustees, the Tribute reported.

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