Opinion: CU Boulder appallingly soft on alleged abuse by former football coach, effective cover-up

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CU Boulder’s response to the domestic abuse allegations against former assistant and safeties coach Joe Tumpkin is problematic enough to warrant punishment. It should have been clear that the issue with CU’s handling of the Tumpkin situation was not whether Chancellor Philip DiStefano, athletic director Rick George and head football coach Mike MacIntyre mishandled the domestic abuse allegations brought against Tumpkin — it was how much.

A report on a months-long investigation by an outside law firm into whether DiStefano, MacIntyre and George acted incorrectly was released June 12, the Daily Camera reported. Ken Salazar, a former senator who presented a summary of that report to the CU Board of Regents, said it showed there was no intent to cover up or break the law, although “mistakes were made.”

The regents allowed President Bruce Benson to determine the appropriate punishment, and Benson gave DiStefano little more than a light slap on his financial wrists — 10 days’ suspension with no pay. George will pay $100,000 to a CU Boulder fund addressing domestic violence issues, and MacIntyre will pay the same total amount, split, to the CU fund and a community organization with the same goal. Benson ordered a review of the relevant policies and related training.

The regents voted to approve MacIntrye’s $14.85 million contract extension three days later, the Camera reported.

The report’s summary said that all three “should have known that they were responsible for reporting [Tumpkin’s ex-girlfriend’s] allegations” to the appropriate office so it could determine whether it had jurisdiction to conduct an investigation and offer resources to the accuser, the Camera reported.

But it was abundantly clear long before a report was underway that they all failed in their roles as leaders on this campus. Their actions — and lack of actions — effectively amounted to a cover-up. And each needs to face the consequences.

Statements emailed to the student body Feb. 9 about CU’s handling of Tumpkin’s alleged abuse of his ex-girlfriend — more than 100 times over 21 months, she told police — were almost comical. DiStefano’s letter was preceded by the sentence, “Our next steps to improve processes related to reporting abuse.” George’s was of a similar mold; his letter included the vague opening statement, “What we could have done better.”

DiStefano and George know fully well what they could have done better. In regard to what DiStefano said, the university’s set process for dealing with abuse allegations is sound. It’s the manner in which CU’s higher-ups followed the process that needs to be improved. So to address George’s points on “What we could have done better,” perhaps acting in a timely manner to report such allegations — regardless of whether you think you’re required to or not — would be a good place to start.

All three knew about the allegations in mid-December before the Alamo Bowl. But CU Boulder did nothing to sideline Tumpkin in the early stages of the situation and instead allowed him to be the defensive playcaller in that game Dec. 29, which was both inappropriate and morally wrong.

Tumpkin’s ex-girlfriend told MacIntyre on Dec. 9 that Tumpkin had repeatedly and violently abused her for the last two years, the Camera reported. Soon after, MacIntyre informed George about the allegations, and George informed DiStefano shortly after that.

The alleged victim left a voicemail for MacIntyre on Dec. 15, saying she was taking the allegations to the police and filing for a restraining order, the Camera reported.

The legal report on the debacle confirmed that MacIntyre blocked the alleged victim’s calls and initially lied about his reasoning for doing so. At first, he said he did it because he didn’t want his actions to influence the situation, but it later came out that his private legal counsel, Lisa Wayne, advised him to block the number, the Camera reported in June.

Tumpkin did not resign until Jan. 27 after the university finally asked him to, to the tune of a $34,000 severance package, $29,607 for unused vacation time and $15,692 as a one-time compensation for coaching in the Buffs’ bowl game. On Jan. 31, he was charged with five felony counts of second-degree assault and three misdemeanor counts of third-degree assault. He currently faces ongoing criminal prosecution in Broomfield, the Camera reported, where the first abuse allegedly took place.

DiStefano, George and MacIntyre all acted in a manner contrary to the guidelines set by CU’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance. Section II, subsection C, of the OIEC’s Sexual Misconduct Policy states that “Any faculty or staff member who is considered a responsible employee … who witnesses or receives information regarding any possible sexual misconduct prohibited herein is required to promptly report to the Title IX Coordinator or designee all known details about the alleged sexual misconduct.” The policy defines domestic partner violence as sexual misconduct, and a responsible employee is one with “the authority to hire, promote, discipline … or direct faculty, staff or students.”

The long story short is that DiStefano should be considered the most in error; George and MacIntyre are also at fault. In a Feb. 9 letter, DiStefano said they regret not reporting to the OIEC.

DiStefano said in a Feb. 3 statement emailed to students that he consulted the office about whether he should have reported — ignoring the key words “required,” “promptly report” and “all known details” set forth by the guidelines. (He likely contacted the office during the January–February media fallout.) His explanation for not reporting was that the university believed it was “premature” to take action when there was no restraining order, criminal charges, civil action or other documentation of the allegation against Tumpkin.

But that claim ignores the key words in the policy: “possible sexual misconduct.” The OIEC’s process and procedures rules outline, in section C, subsection 2, that “OIEC’s jurisdiction does not depend on whether criminal charges are filed.” The office’s sexual misconduct policy says, in Section II, subsection A, that the policy applies to all students, faculty and staff. It also says it applies to off-campus conduct if the conduct “occurred in the context of an employment or education program or activity of the University” or “has continuing adverse effects on campus.” That language should have at least prompted the three officials to immediately ask the office whether a report would be necessary.

The Boulder Faculty Assembly, the group that represents CU professors on campus, filed a report with the office saying it believed DiStefano, George and MacIntyre violated the policy. CU Regent Jack Kroll also disagreed with the chancellor’s interpretation.

DiStefano is the highest-up on this totem pole of responsibility, and he needs to be relieved of his employment.

George’s level of fault probably lies in the same realm, and thus, he should be terminated from his position of athletic director. He and DiStefano withheld information, indicating that they did not care about the consequences so long as the team was succeeding. That is disregard for the alleged victim and shows what the administration will do to preserve its success and status.

That leaves MacIntyre to deal with. He was instrumental in rebuilding Colorado’s football program. MacIntyre won several coaching accolades in light of the Buffs’ 2016 resurgence, including both the Walter Camp and Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year awards. Yet he was the first one aware of the allegations.

The state of the football team complicates this matter. After a decade in the shadows of losing, CU finally had a good season in 2016. Had the Buffaloes been having a season on par with what they’ve done over the last decade, this debacle would have likely been handled much differently. But the success of the team last season is irrelevant. All three officials failed to report the violence on Tumpkin’s hands. These rules apply to all faculty, not just its lesser-known members.

But are we really surprised that a situation of domestic violence was handled so poorly by the athletics department and by the administration? Time and time again, cases of domestic violence crop up in football, and instead of protecting the alleged victim, the NFL — or in this case, the administration — protects the perpetrator. The actions taken by the administration and athletics department contradict everything we as students hear about the school’s commitment to equity.

If the University of Colorado is serious about being on the forefront of sexual assault prevention (considering that it spent $125,000 to bring then-vice president Joe Biden to campus in 2016 to speak about the subject), then there is no room for excuses. The Washington Post reported that, as of January 2017, the federal Education Department had 304 investigations underway related to sexual violence at 223 colleges and universities. One of those is CU Boulder. And although Tumpkin’s crimes weren’t sexual, they speak to the same issue of violence against women in that Biden and countless others continue to raise.

If the university is serious about domestic and sexual violence, mercy or second chances are unacceptable. Otherwise, its promises of a safe and secure campus are strikingly meaningless.

Contact CU Independent Head Opinion Editor Hayla Wong at hayla.wong@colorado.edu.

Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Jake Mauff at jacob.mauff@colorado.edu.

Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at justin.guerriero.edu.

CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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