University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler fielded praise and pointed criticism following the resignation of Norwood Teague as athletic director, with Kaler’s staff scrambling at times to control the flow of information to the public.
A review of hundreds of pages of correspondence and other materials requested by news organizations shows that some members of the university’s Board of Regents questioned why they did not learn sooner of the sexual harassment complaints against Teague. The documents also offer a glimpse of the intense pressure faced by Kaler and the U’s communications team after the Aug. 6 resignation.
In the days after Teague’s resignation, regent Michael Hsu wrote his colleagues to express concern that the board had been left out of important decisions related to the controversy. He complained that Kaler did not inform regents of the allegations against Teague for more than two weeks, including during a meeting he had with board Chairman Dean Johnson in mid-July.
Then, when Johnson and David McMillan, the board’s vice chairman, were notified Aug. 1, they did not fill in their board colleagues until five days later. Hsu said the board should have made the decision to hire an outside investigator to review the Teague situation and that it should not be run through the U’s Office of General Counsel “because of potential conflicts.”
“This incident creates significant risks to our reputation and also potentially financial liabilities,” Hsu wrote. “We also need to be clear that the full board is engaged and informed.”
Hsu did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. But regent Darrin Rosha, who praised Kaler’s response to the allegations the day he found out about them, says he came to share Hsu’s concerns. Rosha said Kaler has since told him he would strive to keep the board in the loop in the future.
“He indicated he understood our concern,” Rosha said. “There was an intent to fully understand the matter before involving the board.”
U spokesman Evan Lapiska said Kaler followed standard practice by informing the chairman and vice chairman about the allegations first. He let the full board know once “we had an agreement for Mr. Teague to resign.”
Kaler also got much praise for his handling of the allegations. Peg Lonnquist, the director of the university’s Women’s Center, sent a note to thank Kaler for “taking quick action in this case.” In an e-mail to Kaler, his speechwriter, Jay Weiner, summarized more than a dozen messages from alumni, donors and community leaders voicing support for Kaler’s handling of the Teague case, in which he sexually harassed two female colleagues at a management retreat. Many, such as former Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe, wrote that the president had acted swiftly and decisively.
But some alumni and others felt that accepting Teague’s resignation amounted to letting the former athletic director off too easily.
One U alumnus, Carlo Montgomery, argued that Kaler should not have allowed Teague to simply resign, comparing that decision to the Catholic Church allowing abusive priests to move on to a different parish.
“If the university message is zero tolerance of sexual harassment, I think his letter of resignation should have been rejected and he should have been fired abruptly and publicly,” wrote attorney Fritz Ebinger, a manager at the University of Minnesota Extension. “That is what zero tolerance looks like.”
Sandi Sherman, communications and marketing coordinator for the U’s Masonic Cancer Center, agreed.
Lapiska said accepting Teague’s resignation was “the most expeditious resolution available.”
A number of alumni also wrote to criticize two statements Kaler made as part of the resignation announcement: That Teague had been “overserved” by staff at the event where the harassment took place and that the U might consult him during the transition, paying him an hourly rate of $285. Kaler later expressed regret about the “overserved” comment and said the U would not consult with Teague.
Kaler responded to some of the notes he received. In a few messages, he hinted at the strain of dealing with the situation. “It has been a tough few weeks,” he wrote in response to one supportive note. “The CEO thing is not always easy!”
In response to an e-mail from an official at another university who commended Kaler’s press conference performance, the U president wrote, “That was hard. Feel so sorry for Norwood and the women.”
Managing the messages
The e-mails the university released also offer a glimpse at the efforts by U leaders to manage the flow of information to the public and the media.
“Need the board to ask questions if you have them, be supportive, and be aware of this intense period of scrutiny we are in,” Amy Phenix, Kaler’s chief of staff, wrote to Johnson and McMillan.
In another missive, she decried statements Johnson made in media interviews that she says were “simply not true,” such as saying university leadership had become aware of “red flags” when Teague was selected for the job.
The U’s communications team put together talking points and an extensive Q & A for leaders to help them handle media inquiries. In response to a possible question about Beth Goetz’s selection as interim athletics director, the suggested response was that she was a “strong and respected leader” and “senior woman administrator.” That early document stresses that because of Teague’s resignation, the university would do no additional investigation on the matter.
Kathleen Schmidlkofer, president and CEO of the University of Minnesota Foundation, wrote to Kaler and Phenix advising that someone had released Teague’s expenses to the media. She said whoever deals with public information requests needs to “continue to uphold donor confidentiality.”
When the U released Teague’s expense reports it withheld donor names. The Star Tribune prepared a lawsuit citing the fact that donor names are public under the law, and the U finally re-released Teague’s expense reports Monday night with the names included. The U suppressed the names of prospective donors, which are not public under state law.
Gail Klatt, the U’s internal auditor, is completing an audit of the athletics department that will be presented Dec. 8 at a special meeting of the Board of Regents. The audit was approved in June, before the sexual harassment complaints became public.
Documents released Monday night by the U included some earlier audits involving the athletics department. A January audit found that the department had calculated management fees incorrectly for one vendor and recommended seeking a refund.
Another audit, of the men’s basketball program, cited financial improprieties, including the purchase of flowers without a bona fide business purpose, excessive costs for coaches’ hotel rooms, unauthorized purchases of tickets for a coach’s spouse, excessive payment for a coach’s meal, and unauthorized purchases for a coach’s home.
The correspondence released Monday also shows that Klatt had suggested during a leadership retreat in Brainerd in July that the university create an ethics office or assign someone to develop “an overarching ethics program for the institution.” Complaints about Teague’s sexual advances to two top female administrators at that retreat forced his resignation.
“The work definitely would need the strong support of the president in order [for] the effort to be taken seriously,” Klatt wrote to Phenix.