University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler is backing away from a comment he made last week when he said athletic director Norwood Teague’s harassment of two women was due to being “overserved” alcohol.
Kaler made the comment after he was asked what he would tell students during a news conference announcing Teague’s resignation.
“As I’ve said before,” he replied. “I view this as the actions of one man who was overserved [alcohol] and a series of bad events happened.” In a statement released Friday, Kaler said he wanted to clarify that remark.
“I regret that very poor choice of words because I cannot state strongly enough that Teague is entirely responsible for his behavior, and alcohol use is no excuse,” Kaler said. “Sexual harassment will not be tolerated at the University of Minnesota, and his resignation was the appropriate result of his actions.”
Kaler’s remark drew criticism on social media. Susan Strauss, an Eden Prairie-based consultant on sexual harassment training, said Kaler’s remark was concerning.
“It’s absurd that the president of the university would not understand the dynamics of sexual harassment,” she said.
Katie Eichele, the director of the university’s Aurora Center, which assists victims of assault and harassment, said Kaler’s comment should be taken in light of other statements he has made, that only Teague was responsible for his behavior and that alcohol is not an excuse.
In his statement on Friday, Kaler also announced that two attorneys from the Minneapolis-based law firm Fredrikson & Byron will conduct the investigation into the U’s Athletics Department.
Kaler said Karen Schanfield, an employment law expert, will work with her law partner Joe Dixon, a former assistant U.S. attorney, to investigate the Athletics Department.
They will report to an independent oversight committee, which will include a member of the Board of Regents, said university spokesman Evan Lapiska.
He said that there is no set budget for the investigation.
“Rather than be beholden to a strict budget, the focus is on doing a thorough job,” Lapiska said.
The investigations were announced Tuesday in the wake of accusations that Teague, 49, was accused of harassing at least three women. Teague resigned last Friday.
The Star Tribune reported on Tuesday that complaints about Teague’s behavior dated to 2012, when his former school, Virginia Commonwealth University, paid $125,000 to their former women’s basketball coach to settle a gender discrimination complaint. In 2013, the University of Minnesota paid $175,000 to settle another gender discrimination complaint against Teague, filed by senior associate athletic director Regina Sullivan after Teague fired her.
Dean Johnson, chairman of the university’s Board of Regents, declined to comment for this story.
Johnson told the Star Tribune on Tuesday that the investigation will take two paths. One will use an employment lawyer to look at “the culture and hiring practices” in the department, he said.
The other will focus on finances, such as expense reports, travel and other spending, at the department that Teague has headed since 2012.
Johnson said the U plans to conduct two audits, one by its auditing staff and one by an outside firm. He said the audit would not focus on Teague individually, but “just the whole balance sheet.”
In his statement, Kaler said Teague would not be needed in a consulting capacity, which he said was a possibility last week.
Staff writer Maura Lerner contributed to this report.