Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Can 2011 Possibly Be Any Worse For Notre Dame's Image?
All of the bad publicity in 2010 may be a disaster for Notre Dame. The tarnishing of the Golden Dome's image is reminiscent of the priest pedophile scandals that plague the Catholic Church. Tarnishing a once proud image with what appears to be bad judgment in assessing priorities is hard to forgive. While a silver cloud in the threatening skies is that the Notre Dame football team will finally be appearing in a post season bowl, the remaining news likely darkens the alumni perceptions .
The handling of Lizzy Seeberg's allegations have cast much doubt upon the University's credibility. Lizzy was a 19-year-old Saint Mary's College freshman who committed suicide 10 days after accusing a Notre Dame football player of assault. The conduct which allegedly occurred in the football players dorm room is an unproven allegation. However, the allegation that at the time of Lizzie's suicide, campus police apparently had yet to interview the accused student is the focal point of criticism. Oh sure, there are excuses. Rv. John Jenkins claims the delay in interviewing the student was because of discrepancies between a hand written statement immediately after the August 31st incident and the story she allegedly told police on September 5th. South Bend Tribune. (Did the University suspect that those outside of Notre Dame might question whether the delay had anything to do with the accused being a football player? Afterall, this is Coach Kelly's (the appointed savior of the program) first year of what is hoped to be a resurgence of Notre Dame football)
Tom and Mary Seeberg (Lizzy's parents) apparently have some serious doubts as to the motive behind the delay in the investigation. Lizzy's parents claim that their daughter's two accounts of the incident were substantially the same. December 15th interview. The accused student athlete claims that the contact between he and Lizzy was consensual, and it may have been. Unfortunately, an accepted truth as to what happened in the eyes of the public may never be reached because of the delay in the investigation. While outsiders may have motivation to criticize Notre Dame, the Seebergs are not outsiders. 11 of the Seeberg family members have attended Notre Dame over the last century. Notre Dame's delay in promptly interviewing the accused and Rev. Jenkins failure to communicate with the Lizzy's family was a huge mistake. (Other than Father Tom Doyle, vice president of student affairs, Notre Dame officials have apparently chosen to avoid contact with the Seeberg family)
Jenkins handles disciplinary matters at Notre Dame. But does that truly prevent him from sending his condolences?
Why would the University not investigate this matter more quickly in an effort to avoid the appearance of impropriety? Were the allegations taken seriously or investigated thoroughly? St. Joseph County prosecutor's eventual accepted the conclusions reached by the Notre Dame police investigators. But the prosecutor, Michael Dvorak, is the father of Notre Dame graduate Ryan Dvorak. Ryan Dvorak was running for mayor of South Bend at the time of the incident. While the conclusion not to file any charges may be warranted, it would have been more reassuring if it had come after an initial prompt investigation of the matter or if an independent prosecutor had been appointed.
It is rather disturbing that conflicting interpretation of a text message may have played a role in the decision of whether Lizzy was a credible victim. Lizzy allegedly received a text from a friend who supposedly wrote, "Don't do anything you would regret. Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.'' According to Dvorak's report, he apparently thought that the texter subjectively believed Lizzy's claim to be false. No matter how you interpret the message, letting 15 days pass before talking to the only other person who knows what happened that night is not a good idea.
Nor is it a good idea to circle-the-wagons and blame the victim without a prompt and thorough investigation. This is a university, not the Vatican, and thus all allegations should be taken seriously and investigated. See-no-evil treatment of mistakes can lead to disaster. Exactly what happened in that dorm room may never be known. But merely sweeping the dirt under a rug and carrying on business as usual is not the answer. Keep in mind Notre Dame's response to the death of Declan Sullivan, the football team videographer who fell from the scissor-lift on a windy October day. Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick called weather conditions that day "unremarkable" prior to the gust that toppled the lift. But Sullivan had tweeted shortly before his death: "Gust of wind up to 60 mph well today will be fun at work . . . I guess I've lived long enough :-/." The Chicago Tribune quoted Swarbrick as insisting that until a gust out of nowhere, "It couldn't have been more normal in terms of the weather conditions at the time.'' One of these men was dead wrong about the weather that day.
Indiana's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating Sullivan's death. The U.S. Department of Education is also inquiring about the way Notre Dame handles sexual harassment complaints. Regardless of the outcome of the external investigations, the initial handling of such matters has stained the dome which once stood for righteousness and integrity. No matter how much success Notre Dame has on the athletic field, it is only by recognizing mistakes and taking steps to improve internal investigatory procedures that Notre Dame will be able to recapture integrity and credibility.
Update 3-16-11: More bad publicity for the too often "Fighting Irish." The state of Indiana has found that Notre Dame failed to maintain safe working conditions when Declan Sullivan died while filming football practice from a hydraulic lift. Indiana Department of Labor Commissioner Lori Torres said Notre Dame will be fined $77,500 for five violations, including failing to properly train the student videographer and failing to have the lift inspected on a regular basis. (The lift was apparently missing the appropriate warnings and a service manual.)
Declandied Oct. 27 when the hydraulic lift fell over in wind gusts as high as 51 mph.
All suspects are to be presumed innocent. Even Notre Dame!