Minnesota athletics probe largely clears school
Published 10:09 am Wednesday, December 9, 2015
MINNEAPOLIS — Top University of Minnesota officials didn’t know about athletic director Norwood Teague’s conduct before he abruptly resigned for sexual harassment, according to an external review Tuesday that also found no fault with the “general climate” around the issue within the sports department.
A separate financial audit, meanwhile, took issue with thousands of dollars in spending by department employees during Teague’s administration and made several recommendations for tighter controls.
Teague stepped down in August after two high-ranking university administrators reported he sexually harassed them at a senior leadership retreat weeks earlier. Teague acknowledged improper behavior and alcohol abuse in resigning.
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The review by an outside law firm didn’t find major flaws with the university’s vetting of Teague before he was hired. The university had been criticized for missing a gender discrimination complaint against Teague when he worked at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“By and large, the athletics department reflects the respect toward women that Minnesotans expect of this flagship educational institution,” lead investigator Karen Schanfield told the Board of Regents on Tuesday. “We found no systemic or pervasive inappropriate behavior in the athletics department when it comes to the treatment of women.”
Regents Chairman Dean Johnson promised decisive action once officials fully digest the findings, which also recommended improving response to sexual harassment and strengthening hiring procedures.
“If our policies have been violated, we will take corrective action,” he said. “Where there are problems, we will fix them.”
University President Eric Kaler said the review validated his belief that the culture of the sports program is “respectful and responsive” but he’ll still propose changes quickly to improve policies.
A separate review looked at expense practices within the department, raising questions about some deals and spending under Teague.
Investigators did find that some Minnesota athletes lied to investigators trying to follow up on a sexual harassment complaint. While the university’s equal opportunity office didn’t find enough evidence to substantiate the harassment allegation, the probe determined otherwise, saying there was sufficient evidence “to conclude that at least some of the student athletes” violated the university’s sexual harassment policy.
Neither the review nor investigators identified the sport, but the school’s director of equal opportunity reported in July that her office had received complaints about football players.
Bill O’Brien, an attorney for Teague, called the 700-page report comprehensive and thorough, and asserted that questionable spending in the accompanying financial audit was part of “a culture that existed long before Norwood came to the university.”
“The report largely clears the university, and it largely clears Norwood Teague,” O’Brien said. “This should end, then, the months of false speculation about his conduct that has ranged from the untrue to the absurd.”
Teague’s deputy, Mike Ellis, resigned in November after being placed on leave in September when unspecified complaints also surfaced against him. Despite the claims against its top two leaders, the “general climate” in the department “does not condone or tolerate sexual harassment,” according to the review.
The outside investigators interviewed more than 100 people and studied 250,000 pages of documents, texts and emails for the review, which cost $690,000 through Nov. 30.
The separate financial audit examined Teague’s administration of the department and travel and expense reports by his leadership team. Athletics administrators had $386,000 worth of expenses during his tenure; some are still under review. In some instances, auditors found alcohol purchases were disguised under other expense headings or improperly charged to special purchasing cards.
Holiday parties, luxury hotel stays, private car services, private plane charters and first-class airline tickets also came under scrutiny.
Auditors also took issue with an agreement made under Teague for rent-free use of TCF Bank Stadium for a concert during the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The audit said the arrangement for the Imagine Dragons concert was not fully vetted and that the fair-market value would have been $319,855. The league was billed $187,000, but it also got to keep net proceeds from concessions and merchandise. Instead of being paid, the university was given tickets to the game at an average cost of $2,565 per ticket.
In response to the audit, interim athletic director Beth Goetz said her staff is seeking reimbursement for questionable expenses and that all current employees have completed repayment. University auditor Gail Klatt said the school will try to recover $6,669 from Teague and $434 from Ellis.
Schanfield, an employment lawyer, conducted the external review with former federal prosecutor Joseph Dixon.