A Rutgers University lawyer resigned Thursday amid growing anger that he was still employed after approving a decision in December to suspend rather than fire basketball coach Mike Rice, even though he was aware of a video showing the coach hitting, kicking and taunting players.
The university had announced last week that John Wolf, who had been serving in an interim basis as its top in-house lawyer, had resigned from his leadership position. School officials at first would not clarify what that meant, but then this week acknowledged that he was remaining at Rutgers as a lower-level lawyer.
Some state lawmakers felt they’d been deceived and were calling for his resignation in the latest development in a scandal that broke last week when a video was made public showing Rice shoving and kicking players and using gay slurs as he yelled at them during practices.
Meanwhile, the school’s board of governors announced, as expected, that the university will hire a lawyers to do an independent review and that the board intends to learn how to better govern from the lessons in the report.
Vice Chairman Gerald Harvey also condemned Rice’s actions.
“It is our continuing commitment that all students are treated with respect and dignity and no single program is allowed to undermine that commitment,” he said.
Rice was suspended, fined and ordered to anger management counseling in December after school officials were first given the video by a former basketball program employee.
Since the footage became public, Rice was fired, an assistant coach resigned and so did Tim Pernetti, the school’s popular 42-year-old athletic director. Pernetti, who was named last month as one of five finalists for the Sports Business Journal’s athletic director of the year award, said in his letter of resignation that his first instinct last November was to fire Rice. But it’s not clear whether he recommended that to anyone else.
For their part, Rutgers players said Thursday before the board of governors meeting that they didn’t feel threatened by Rice’s behavior and that they want one of his assistant coaches to take over the program.
“Even though the stuff on that tape looks bad, we never felt threatened,” forward Kadeem Jack said.
He and other players called for Rice’s assistant David Cox to become head coach, saying Cox has kept the team together during the scandal.
Who knew about Rice’s behavior earlier and what they did about it has become the focus of fallout. Lawmakers also planned hearings of their own to address some of the same questions.
Despite some calls for his job, Rutgers President Robert Barchi has received public support from Gov. Chris Christie and the chairman of the board of governors.
Barchi and Wolf jointly announced the lawyer’s resignation on Thursday, saying “it is in the best interests of the university that Mr. Wolf resign from the university effective immediately.”
He has agreed to work with a new general counsel on the transition during a tense time at the university. It’s absorbing two medical schools effective July 1.
Wolf had worked at Rutgers since 1984.
“While I regret the circumstances surrounding my departure from Rutgers, I always will have very fond memories of the challenges and achievements that I have been a part of and the many colleagues and friends,” he said in a statement.
At Thursday’s board meeting, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney called for board member Mark Hershhorn to resign or be ousted.
As chairman of the board’s athletics committee, Hershhorn saw the video of Rice in December. He has said in a statement that he told Pernetti that Rice should be fired. But Sweeney said he should have told the rest of the board about what he knew.
This week, Hershhorn issued a statement saying Sweeney’s statements “are reckless, shocking and were made without any personal knowledge of the facts.”
The board did not respond to Sweeney’s position before it went into closed session.