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    A Times Editorial

    Be honest about problems at USF

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001


    Special counsel Joseph Hatchett did a commendable job of untangling all the complaints of racial harassment in the University of South Florida women's basketball program. But USF President Judy Genshaft's response to Hatchett's report was disappointing. Genshaft said all the right things about racial sensitivity, but she minimized a top administrator's role in making this legal mess worse.

    Genshaft showed seriousness at the outset by appointing Hatchett, a respected former federal judge, to investigate how the campus handled complaints student-athletes began making in 1999. Former player Dione Smith charged that coach Jerry Ann Winters discriminated against black student athletes. She and others complained to then-assistant athletic director Hiram Green, who investigated and found a recurring theme of racism within the program.

    But thanks to the meddling of Green's boss, Athletic Director Paul Griffin, those complaints went nowhere. Hatchett found the university had no official policy requiring Griffin to contact USF's equal opportunity office. That's no excuse. Griffin is a longtime department head. He knows how the university functions and should have seen the conflict in investigating his own coach. Good supervisors don't need sound judgment spelled out.

    Griffin's mistake wasn't only of omission. He tried to keep the equal opportunity office from doing its job once the complaints leaked out. In an internal e-mail, Griffin assured the equal opportunity office, in the "strongest language," there was "NO issue of racial harassment," even though Green reported two weeks earlier the charges were sufficient "to warrant a more extensive inquiry."

    Genshaft can't blame the process and absolve Griffin when it was Griffin perverting that very process. He could have involved the appropriate officials from the start, but declined. USF fired Winters for retaliating against Smith. But the retaliation might have been prevented if Griffin had handled the matter responsibly from the start.

    Now eight former players are suing USF and Winters, a liability Hatchett rightly dumps at Griffin's feet. "Had the (equal opportunity) office been involved in this matter at the outset," the judge wrote, "it is quite possible that the parties would have reached an appropriate resolution."

    Genshaft has the prerogative to discipline as she sees fit. She deserves some credit for adopting the common-sense recommendations Hatchett called for, and in her defense, Genshaft, who inherited this scandal from the previous administration, has laid out expectations that didn't exist before these allegations broke. Minimizing Griffin's role, however, falsifies the record. The process wasn't entirely at fault. The problem was a coach who abused her authority and a boss who did not adequately care.

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