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Update on Hazing Investigation

Dear members of the Northwestern University community,

As many of you may be aware, yesterday we made public the executive summary of investigative findings and detailed action steps regarding hazing within the Northwestern Football program. I felt it important that you hear from me directly about our processes and next steps in this matter.

Upon receiving an anonymous complaint from a student-athlete in November 2022, the University acted prudently to immediately engage an independent investigator to perform a comprehensive review of the complaint, including outreach to current and former student-athletes. After reviewing the report, I assessed a two-week suspension for Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, which went into effect immediately. However, upon reflection, I believe I may have erred in weighing the appropriate sanction for Coach Fitzgerald.  

The confidential report concluded that while there was corroborating evidence that hazing had occurred, there was no direct evidence that Coach Fitzgerald was aware of the hazing. In determining an appropriate penalty for the head coach, I focused too much on what the report concluded he didn’t know and not enough on what he should have known. As the head coach of one of our athletics programs, Coach Fitzgerald is not only responsible for what happens within the program but also must take great care to uphold our institutional commitment to the student experience and our priority to ensure all students — undergraduate and graduate — can thrive during their time at Northwestern. Clearly, he failed to uphold that commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a sanction. 

As a leader entrusted with the welfare of our students, I have always — and will always — act in their best interest. In this instance, I attempted to do just that based on the facts presented to me and by taking strong actions to ensure that hazing will no longer occur in our football program, including permanently discontinuing off-campus pre-season practices; the establishment of a locker room monitor who does not report to the football staff; additional anti-hazing training for all football student-athletes, and additional actions.

Due to the confidential nature of the investigation, I just learned the name of the young man who first reported the allegations. I spoke with his family and offered my sincere apologies for what their son had to endure, and I also attempted to reach out to the young man himself to offer my apologies. I was moved by what I heard from his family and by the impact the hazing had on their son. In the days ahead, I will engage with University leadership, including the Board of Trustees as well as the leadership of the Faculty Senate, and will keep you abreast of any developments as I assess future steps.

I am grateful to Peter Barris, Chair of the Board of Trustees, for his unrelenting support and guidance as we have navigated this issue over the last several months.

Northwestern University is an extraordinary university with an exceptional athletics program. I am committed to ensuring that the misconduct that occurred in our football program never happens again anywhere in our university community.