Two New Jersey Democrats are citing the controversy surrounding the former men’s basketball coach at their state’s flagship university to highlight the need to pass anti-bullying legislation.
“This incident shows us that physical and emotional abuse of college students by faculty is occurring right under our noses,” Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg and Rep. Rush D. Holt said in a statement highlighting their legislation to require higher education institutions to develop and maintain policies to combat harassment.
Lautenberg and Holt say they originally developed the bill (S 216) after a bullying incident led to 18-year-old Tyler Clementi committing suicide while a student at Rutgers. Clementi was the victim of anti-gay cyberbullying that involved Clementi being surreptitiously videotaped.
“Our Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act would require colleges to implement policies strictly prohibiting faculty from bullying students and this incident highlights the need for Congress to support our bill,” the duo said.
Rutgers University fired head basketball coach Mike Rice after ESPN aired videotape of Rice calling players gay slurs and engaging in other inappropriate behavior during basketball practice. Senior university officials, including Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and President Robert L. Barchi, were previously aware of the conduct but said that an outside investigation led to the recommendation that Rice face a short suspension and other sanctions, short of termination of employment.
“I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior. I have now reached the conclusion that Coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively in a position that demands the highest levels of leadership, responsibility and public accountability,” Barchi said in a statement. “He cannot continue to coach at Rutgers University.”
Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., also reacted to the news of the firing in a statement Thursday.
“This was a regrettable episode for the university, but I completely support the decision to remove Coach Rice. It was the right and necessary action to take in light of the conduct displayed on the videotape,” Christie said. “As we move on from this incident, I am very optimistic that Rutgers will select a new head coach who not only puts a winning team on the court, but will make everyone proud of the example he sets every day for the young men in his charge.”
Lautenberg and Holt, however, seemed to signal that the Rutgers administration should have acted more quickly.
“Rutgers made the right decision by finally firing Mike Rice for his deplorable actions and homophobic slurs, but more needs to be done to make sure this type of abuse is stopped and a strong code of conduct protecting students from such harassment is enforced. We will keep working to stop bullying and ensure that no parent has to worry that his or her child is being abused by their leaders or peers when they are on a college campus,” Lautenberg and Holt said.