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Ensuring Northwestern Athletics Program Reflects Our Values

Dear members of the faculty and staff,

As you are no doubt aware, over the past 10 days, the University terminated the employment of Head Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald and relieved Head Baseball Coach Jim Foster of his duties. These actions followed investigations into hazing among our student-athletes in football and the bullying of assistant coaches in baseball. This situation is still unfolding, but the University already faces litigation related to these actions. Therefore, I hope you will understand that I am restricted in discussing specifics of these matters. I also am very concerned — as I am sure you all are — about protecting the confidentiality and rights of our students.

I write to you today to give you my commitment that I will continue to do whatever is necessary to address this situation and ensure that our athletic program remains one you can be proud of and one that is fully aligned with and reflects our values. Equally important, I give you my commitment that we will redouble our efforts to safeguard the welfare of each and every student-athlete at Northwestern.

Shortly after learning the results of the independent investigation, Combe Family Vice President for Athletics & Recreation Derrick Gragg and I announced a series of steps including the monitoring of the football locker room, anti-hazing training and the establishment of an online reporting tool for complaints. These steps, while necessary and appropriate, are just the start, and we will be augmenting them in the coming weeks in close consultation with faculty, trustees and other University constituents.

In my view, which I know many of you share, we must ensure that we have in place appropriate accountability for the athletic department. We will implement the Faculty Senate’s prior request that we engage an outside firm to evaluate the sufficiency of our accountability mechanism including the Committee on Athletics and Recreation and our ability to detect threats to the welfare of student-athletes. I also believe it is important to examine closely the culture of Northwestern Athletics and its relationship to the academic mission. Both of these reviews will be conducted with feedback and engagement of faculty, staff and students, and both will be made publicly available. 

As I said at my recent inauguration, part of what makes Northwestern so special is its breadth and depth. We not only have the very best in scientific, humanistic, social science and professional academic research and education as well as amazing performing and creative arts, but we also have a world-class intercollegiate athletics program. In the wake of this unfortunate situation, my job is to work closely with you to not just restore trust in the athletic program, but to make it better and more closely integrated with our academic mission. 

I hope your summer is providing you with time for rest and reflection.