In the spring, UW-Whitewater suspended, and later fired, wrestling coach Tim Fader. See, Wrestling coach seeks answers to dismissal and Update on dismissal of Wisconsin-Whitewater wrestling coach Tim Fader.
Around the same time that the Fader matter hit the news, UW-Whitewater was – and still is – separately under federal investigation for its handling of requirements for sexual assault and harassment complaints. See, UW-Whitewater one of 55 colleges under investigation for alleged Title IX violations.
That federal investigation preceded, and did not involve, Fader.
I don’t know Mr. Fader; I learned about his story when a local website splashed notice of his suspension without making clear initially that Fader wasn’t, himself, the target of an ongoing police investigation.
I wrote at the time that the matter deserved more caution than it was receiving. See, Caution on Publishing About Criminal Investigations. Here’s what I wrote, in May: “In the servile rush to defend every big institution, it might help to consider that publishing about a criminal investigation, while simultaneously writing in the same item about an employee’s administrative suspension, can leave an innocent employee looking like a criminal suspect.”
Here’s what Fader reports he did about an allegation of criminal conduct (there’s no published refutation of his account):
Events were set into motion on April 18, when Fader received a phone call from the mother of a Whitewater student, alleging that a wrestling recruit had sexually assaulted her daughter. Fader found the recruit, and took him to Whitewater, Wis. police, with the idea that the incident would be handled by the proper authorities. Two days later, the mother called back to say she was wrong about the incident, and should not have called. Fader believed the matter was closed.
Two weeks later, the university told the ten-year coach it had not been notified of the alleged incident, and that his job was at risk.
“It’s just always been that way: Whenever anybody did anything wrong on campus, the university was always notified by the police,” Fader told “Register Star” reporter Jay Taft.
“There was certainly no intent to cover anything up or hide anything. I acted immediately and with the best interest of the alleged victim in mind, and I still think I did the right thing.”
Later, the stated reason for Coach Fader’s dismissal turned out to be for minor infractions ostensibly unrelated to a police investigation. (This is why one doesn’t rush to swallow every statement middling officials offer, as often those statement are misleading by intention or by sub-standard composition.)
There’s a harm in all this, candidly, that goes beyond Coach Fader’s dismissal: a contention of dismissing Fader for minor infractions when the principal issue seems to be – to any reasonable person – how Coach Fader reported another’s misconduct.
There are and must be rules for how to report misconduct, but no rule can possibly matter more than a climate in which victims (and those seeking accountability) feel free to tell of possible misconduct.
It’s that stark: the very purpose of rules for reporting should be to assist those who report misconduct, to build a climate to feel safe about telling what happened.
No rule or scheme can, all of the time, assure an avenue of communication for every circumstance. That’s impossible – human rules cannot achieve perfection, no matter how some university officials might wish to think otherwise about themselves and their own work.
What to do?
One should recognize that efforts at reporting that fall short of formal standards but still advance communication have value, as those efforts bolster a climate in which people will feel able to talk.
Trying imperfectly can yet serve a positive goal.
Practical efforts – for victims and for accountability of assailants – are the very heart of the matter.
Meeting federal guidelines matters, but it’s not as important as sending a message that speaking, however imperfectly, should be supported over silence or formalism.
I don’t think that happened here.
That it didn’t is a loss not principally to Coach Fader, but to a climate that fosters support for victims and accountability for alleged assailants.
See, also, a new initiative from the White House about speaking and taking action on campus to end sexual assaults: