University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson has been a disappointment to a lot of people who wish the campus well. That’s OK. It’s kind of the job of university presidents to disappoint people. Back in the 1970s, the UNR yearbook Artemesia ran a gallery of photos of all the previous campus presidents with their names and fates, all of which were unhappy—“fired” or “forced out” or whatever.
But even by the standards of college presidents, President Johnson’s behavior in the case of Yann Hufnagel has been abysmal.
Johnson hired Hufnagel just after the University of California, Berkeley assistant coach had been fired from that campus for sexual harassment of a reporter, to some of which Hufnagel admitted. It’s another instance of different standards being used when college sports are involved, with Johnson apparently bewitched by the notion that Hufnagel is a “recruiting genius,” as the local cliché has it.
This case is reminiscent of the ethics case against the late Kathy Augustine, Nevada state controller who admitted her misdeeds and paid a fine when the case was before the Nevada Ethics Commission, then mounted a defense when the forum changed to the Nevada Legislature and impeachment. Hufnagel admitted appalling conduct, but then planned an appeal (since dropped), yet Johnson puts UC Berkeley and Hufnagel’s alleged victim on trial in order to justify the hiring.
“We weren’t reinvestigating the case,” Johnson told journalist Jon Ralston. That’s exactly what Johnson was doing—examining cherry-picked documents offered by Hufnagel and examining reports on the sports website Deadspin and then claiming they supported his decision. That’s reinivestigating. Johnson was just doing it badly.
The headline on one of the Deadspin articles reads, “Fired Cal Coach Who Asked Reporter For Three-Way Gets Nevada Job, Releases Docs Which Prove Nothing,” which certainly seems to suggest that Marc Johnson’s view of the documents is not universally shared. And the article is full of items like this:
“As Hufnagel’s team writes, ’Complainant continued to reach out to Mr. Hufnagel by text after their night at the brewpub, they continued their flirtation, and Mr. Hufnagel continued to help her with her job.’ The record shows, however, that they didn’t text for almost a month after the incident, which was during the heart of college basketball season, and that the conversation was strictly professional.”
In other words, Johnson is finding in this material something that confirms his own now embarrassing decision, though few others can find it there. He needs to cut his losses and stop seeking redemption. This was a screw-up.
In second guessing the UC investigation with one-sided material, Johnson does not have and will never have the same information UC Berkeley had. He has some documents and interviews with one person. He cannot experience the full range of information and documents, much less the demeanors, facial expressions, voice inflections that the UC probe did, and which are essential. Lawyers often say that no one can second guess a jury unless they were in the courtroom whenever the jury was.
Johnson has embarrassed Nevada with this fiasco.
One more note: This story should not have been covered by sports reporters. It is not a sports story, and maybe some news reporters could have described Hufnagel’s former campus for readers with more than three letters or a team name.