A Rutgers University dean who took part in the search for a new athletic director said Tuesday that she is “mystified” and “dumbfounded” that a search firm didn’t find red flags about the woman who was chosen for the job.
The university hired Julie Hermann for the job earlier this month, but the decision has reignited anger over the state of the Rutgers athletic department since The Star-Ledger reported on Sunday that all 15 members of the University of Tennessee volleyball team that Hermann coached in 1996 wrote a letter to the university complaining that Hermann humiliated them and mentally abused them.
“I have to say the reason you hire executive search firms, at least when I was vetted for the job at Rutgers several years ago, they appeared to go back to kindergarten,” said Susan Schurman, dean of the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers. She said that because she was out of the country for much of the duration of the search, and her involvement was limited.
“One of the primary reasons for using a search firm is that they're supposed to completely vet a candidate for a senior management position, so I'm a little mystified as to why this comes from the press and not the search committee.”
The allegations about Hermann are particularly touchy at Rutgers, where Tim Pernetti resigned as athletic director last month after video footage of former basketball coach Mike Rice berating players with anti-gay slurs, kicking and shoving them was made public. Rice was fired in April.
Hermann was hired May 15. She is set to begin work on June 17.
On Tuesday, state Sen. Barbara Buono, the expected Democratic candidate for governor in this year's election, blasted Rutgers President Robert Barchi for his handling of what she called the “months-long reality show emanating from the Rutgers athletics department.”
“As an alumnus, and as a New Jersey taxpayer, I have lost all confidence in President Barchi's ability to effectively guide our state university,” Buono said in a statement in which she also called on Gov. Chris Christie to make changes at Rutgers.
Rutgers hired the Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search for $70,000 to advertise the job, gather candidates and do background checks on them. Firm spokesman Michael Plunkett said in an email that Parker would not comment on this or any other search it's been involved in.
Candace Straight, a member of the search committee and Rutgers' Board of Governors, said Tuesday that Hermann was on the initial list of more than 60 candidates presented by Parker and was also in the group of 14 semifinalists. Straight said the committee did not interview all 14 candidates recommended by the firm.
Schurman said it's the job of the search firm to look for problems in a job candidate's background, “and they get paid a lot of money for it,” she said. “That part, I'm dumbfounded.”
She also said she worries that Hermann's background may have been less scrutinized because she's a woman. Only two other women are now the athletic directors at schools that play in the NCAA's top football division.
Other members of the search committee, including its two co-chairs, Kate Sweeney and Richard Edwards, did not return messages from The Associated Press on Tuesday.