Tag: Rev. John Jenkins

Rev. John Jenkins,Jack Swarbrick

With academic probe complete, Notre Dame releases statement, but not fate of players


With Notre Dame’s academic investigation closed and the Honor Code committee meetings completed as of Friday, the fate of football players DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams will be determined sometime next week.

But for those expecting some gigantic statement out of the university, it’s not happening.

On Sunday afternoon, Paul J. Browne,  the university’s vice president for public affairs and communications, released a carefully parsed statement that will likely serve as the last official word from the university about the academic investigation and Honor Code process that’s had more attention on it in the past two months than ever before.

The statement is packed full, and has largely been misinterpreted this Sunday morning. So let’s go through a few key points before laying out the statement in full.


The players are being withheld from competition because of the investigation of NCAA violations, with the threat of vacating wins the major remaining issue. 

Notre Dame’s 5-0 start wouldn’t be worth much if Brian Kelly and the university found out players that took the field were ineligible to compete. That’s ultimately why the five student-athletes have been withheld from football activities, and why Notre Dame continues to acknowledge that NCAA sanctions, if necessary, will be voluntarily imposed and reported to the NCAA.

That the university will vacate wins isn’t an assumption that’s fair to make. Looking back at two recent, high profile academic investigations that involved the NCAA, North Carolina and Florida State are the best guide. The Tar Heels vacating all 16 wins from the 2008 and 2009 football seasons after improper benefits and academic misconduct was discovered. The academic misconduct involved a now fired department chairman, Julius Nyang’oro, and his department manager, who presided over independent study classes in the AFAM Department.

At Florida State, Bobby Bowden was forced to vacate 12 victories from 2006 and 2007, part of the penalty after academic fraud was discovered to have involved 61 student-athletes. The scandal also forced the men’s basketball team, the baseball team, the women’s basketball team and a national championship in men’s track and field to be vacated. Scholarships were stripped from 10 Seminoles teams. According to the New York Times, that fraud included not just students and student-athletes, but a learning specialist, an academic advisor and a tutor who took tests and wrote papers.


From what’s already been publicly stated, Notre Dame’s situation doesn’t include misconduct from any employees involved in academic support. 

This should be a very important part of any NCAA ruling and could be what keeps this from being an issue that demands vacating victories. While the North Carolina and Florida State situations involved members of the faculty or academic support systems at the university, Notre Dame’s does not.

From what we’ve heard from university president Rev. John Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick, the investigation’s findings don’t implicate anybody in that realm, but rather focus on the behavior of one paid student employee of the athletic department. Multiple sources have told me that this person served as a student athletic trainer for the football team.

Here’s what Jenkins told faculty in mid-September, according to an Observer Report:

[Jenkins] said the athletic department’s compliance office became aware of “a potentially problematic situation involving a current student athlete as well as a student who served for a brief time as a paid student employee of the athletic department, although that position had no role in academic tutoring or advising of student athletes.”

“I want to underscore that the current investigation has not revealed any misconduct or knowledge of impropriety by regular, full-time staff,” he said. “However, given the student’s brief status as a paid employee, there was the possibility of what the NCAA considers an ‘excess benefit’ given to the student athlete by a representative of the institution.”

Again, nothing has been decided yet, nor announced. But there’s quite a difference between what is alleged to have happened at Notre Dame and what happened at Florida State and North Carolina.


Because of some complexities this case wasn’t treated like a standard Honor Code violation. 

Browne’s statement spoke repeatedly about the complexities of this case. Those complexities involved a full investigation from the Office of the General Counsel, as well as the NCAA involvement already discussed.

But Browne mentions the added complexity of “multiple disciplines,” potentially meaning that the suspected Honor Code violations took place in a variety of schools, for instance the business college as well as the college of Arts and Letters.

That crossover — as well as the review of extensive exhibits compiled during the legal dig — forced a more comprehensive process. According to Browne’s statement, that included witness interviews, a faculty reporter to review voluminous materials and comprehensive honesty committees.


In the closest thing we’ll see to an acknowledgement, the university statement acknowledges their timeline and the five football players stuck in limbo. 

Late last week, the Observer, Notre Dame’s student newspaper, released an Op-Ed that called for clear Honor Code, taking to task the university’s administration for their handling of the current investigation.

These well-written paragraphs strike to the heart of the issue for students and members of the Notre Dame community.

The one constant since the investigation was announced has been that no one really knows much about the proceedings. Sure, head football coach Brian Kelly addresses it every week in his press conferences, and Jenkins made reference to it in his address to the University’s faculty last month.

But we have about as much insight into the Honor Code process as we did before the players were withheld, and our efforts to learn more about it have proved largely fruitless.

We’ve been directed to a webpage listing the members of the University Code of Honor Committee, which has not been updated for this academic year. We’ve looked at a Code of Honor Handbook that dates back to 2011 and may no longer be in use. Requests to learn more about the Honor Code process have been denied, despite a clause in Handbook that states, “Each member of the committee may be approached for consultation or advice about the Code of Honor by any member of the Notre Dame community.” Hugh Page, associate provost, dean of the First Year of Studies and Honor Code Committee co-chair, declined to comment on requests for an updated committee roster or for clarification of the text of the Code.

The Honor Code itself is one way in which the University upholds its values. The University could use this opportunity to show how the Honor Code does its job, but it instead seems intent on keeping everything except the players’ identities under close wraps.

And that, to us, raises another academic issue — a lack of transparency on a campus that should be open to creating dialogue. The players themselves seem to not know how the hearings process works. And we, their peers, have no way to know if the process is operating along the parameters the Honor Code outlines. We understand why certain specific details on the case should be kept confidential to protect those involved – but we also think that total opacity on any question involving the Honor Code creates an unhealthy, unproductive climate for students.

For the past two months, the university has repeatedly turned down requests for comments and directed people to the school’s website (they do in today’s statement as well), a document that the Observer rightly points out hasn’t been updated since 2011 (though on Sunday afternoon, the Observer’s editor-in-chief Ann Marie Jakubowski notes that the document was updated this weekend).

But after a relatively tone-deaf approach to this situation for the past two months, Browne’s statement includes the following olive branch.

“The process is time-consuming because it is thorough, as it must be to ensure integrity and fairness. Having said that, we recognize it can be difficult for students, regardless of culpability, who are subject to such reviews, especially when public scrutiny becomes so magnified for those who are student-athletes. We are working to resolve these situations as quickly as possible.”

That the apology comes after such a thorough takedown by the voice of the student body is no surprise. Also, as the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine notes, a Board of Trustees meeting took place this weekend. Hine tweeted that multiple sources told him that “trustees were not thrilled with timeline of investigation.”


What happens now? 

As the statement reads, unless Notre Dame reports something to the NCAA, life will go forward without any official statement from the school. That’s largely because of FERPA privacy laws, making it next to impossible to discuss the private disciplinary matters of the school.

So that once again leaves Notre Dame’s football coach to be the unofficial spokesman for the administration. In all likelihood, we’ll find out who gets to play and who doesn’t during Brian Kelly’s Tuesday press conference, when the media will ask him, or when one of the five football players takes to Twitter or other social media microphones to announce their collective fate.

When asked Sunday during his weekly teleconference what he plans to do as he now considers how to reintegrate as many as five players back onto the football team, Kelly hasn’t had the luxury of giving it much thought.

“I’m probably going to have to spend some time today thinking about it because I really have not given it much thought,” Kelly acknowledged on Sunday. “I do have to begin to think about reintegrating, and obviously I’m sure a decision is going to be made. I probably won’t reintegrate until I get a decision on each guy, and hopefully that will come soon. Once that decision’s made on each one of them, we’re going to have to have a plan on reintegrating all of the players or those players that I can.”

Thankfully, we’re almost done with this process.



Statement from Paul J. Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications at the University of Notre Dame:

On August 15 the Office of General Counsel of the University of Notre Dame notified the NCAA that because of potential ineligibility issues, the University was withholding from football participation certain student-athletes as part of an inquiry into possible academic dishonesty involving several other students as well. The NCAA was also informed that upon the start of the academic year later in the month, appropriate University committees would meet to develop review processes consistent with the Undergraduate Academic Code of Honor.

Often, an academic honesty review involves one student and one academic department. Due to the complexity of cases involving multiple disciplines, Comprehensive Honesty Committees were impaneled to review memoranda and extensive exhibits compiled in connection with the General Counsel’s initial inquiry, interview witnesses and the subjects of the hearings, and potentially impose sanctions subject to appeal. A faculty reporter was also appointed to review voluminous material collected during the General Counsel’s investigation to identify cases for the Comprehensive Committees’ review.

Hearings for those withheld from football were completed on Friday.  Decisions will be communicated individually to affected student-athletes and other students alike, as deliberations on each case conclude. As with other student academic records, the results of the review are confidential, and the University will not disclose them, although affected students may if they so choose. If it is determined that student-athletes would have been ineligible during past competition, Notre Dame will voluntarily impose appropriate sanctions, report our findings to the NCAA, and await its independent review.

The principal purpose of the Honor Code process (see http://honorcode.nd.edu/) is to educate our students as to the importance of academic integrity.  The process is time-consuming because it is thorough, as it must be to ensure integrity and fairness.  Having said that, we recognize it can be difficult for students, regardless of culpability, who are subject to such reviews, especially when public scrutiny becomes so magnified for those who are student-athletes. We are working to resolve these situations as quickly as possible.

With all eyes watching, a dig for truth begins at Notre Dame

Rev. John Jenkins,Jack Swarbrick

The college football world stared at Notre Dame on Friday. Some snickered as they hoped to see smoke and fire emerge from the Golden Dome. Irish fans braced for impact, with even the most level-headed dreading impending doom, with things getting worse by the minute as Notre Dame brass stayed silent.

Early reports looked ugly. And while they didn’t — or haven’t yet — turned out to be correct, the latest academic blunder coming from a football program aspiring to carry the torch for doing things the right way on and off the field could do seismic damage.

At this point, it’s too early to tell. Credit Notre Dame’s administration for doing the right thing early, alerting the NCAA to their investigation and holding four players out of practice and games until they do more digging. So while that takes place, the facts of the current state of affairs are worth presenting.

“Several students” are part of the academic investigation, with four current members of the team. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick acknowledged that DaVaris DanielsKendall MooreKeiVarae Russell, and Ishaq Williams were indeed the student-athletes in question, confirming multiple media reports.

If we are to believe Dan Murphy at BlueandGold.com, as many as 22 former football players could be involved. Head coach Brian Kelly was alerted to the investigation on Thursday, news that “devastated” the Irish coach, Swarbrick acknowledged.

Evidence turned up at the end of summer semester, with classes ending July 25 and final grades/graduation taking place on August 3rd. Kelly kicked off spring practice on Friday, August 1 with an opening press conference, where he stated all of his players were in good academic standing.

The head coach didn’t know that as his team heading to Culver Military Academy, an academic probe had been handed over to compliance and then to the university’s office of general counsel. With all four players involved in the probe participating in practice earlier this week, the news surely landed as another gut punch to a head coach whose best players can’t seem to avoid making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

(The surprise also carries over to the players’ families. Per Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated, the fathers of Moore and Williams had heard nothing from the school. As of Friday night, the family of DaVaris Daniels hasn’t, either.)

While it’s difficult to do, the presumption of innocence is probably worth attempting. But in the viral wasteland that is Twitter-based reporting, let’s put aside the fact that university president Rev. John Jenkins and Swarbrick vehemently denied that any player has been dismissed or any judgment has been passed.

“Nobody has been dismissed,” Jenkins said. “We will take as long as it takes to have a thorough and fair investigation and proceed through our academic honor code process.”

The disciplinary process at Notre Dame is notoriously secretive. And while progress has been made from the draconian days of the fairly recent past (remember the leniency granted Michael Floyd?), hoping for an expedited process for an academic issue that could go back a few years might be a pipe dream.

After a day spent chasing rumors and shadows — each more sordid than the last, listening to Swarbrick and Jenkins provided a calm that was difficult to comprehend. Sure, things were bad. But after years (maybe even decades) of wondering about the decision-making process at the university, it’s clear that grownups are handling things. The results of their findings might be ugly, but the search for truth will not be.

But even if Notre Dame’s two most important administrators did their best to make sure the assembled media understood this situation was an isolated incident, it’s hard not to connect some rather ugly dots.

Quarterback Everett Golson became a national story for his academic suspension. Basketball standout Jerian Grant suffered a similar fate, forced off the court for another academic impropriety. The Irish hockey team lost Robbie Russo, one of their best players, in a situation that looked mighty similar.

As Notre Dame pushes to compete at the highest level of college football, the university has gotten more aggressive in their acceptance of prospective student-athletes with questionable academic profiles. And it’s hard not to jump to conclusions when athletes like Tee Shepard, Eddie Vanderdoes, Golson, Daniels and now this quartet bubble to the surface.

That’s why it’s worth re-reading part of Jenkins’ statement, released earlier today.

“If the suspected improprieties are proven, we will use the experience to reinforce among our students the importance of honesty in all that they do,” Jenkins said, in part. “We are also examining ways of better conveying to students that they can avail themselves of legitimate academic assistance without resorting to cheating.”

The resources have been committed, with Adam Sargent,the associate director in Notre Dame’s Academic Services for Student Athletes, among the most respected and above reproach people on campus. But ultimately the push and pull between advancing the academic profile of the university and holding blue-chip student-athletes to those standards might prove impossible.

The tragedy of it all is that 2012 served as a rallying cry for those that believed the balance could still exist. But that magical season could go up in smoke as a result of this investigation, with Notre Dame acknowledging that they’ll vacate victories if players are retroactively found to be ineligible.

For now, we wait. For the truth, for an internal investigation, and for the ripple effect that’ll likely be felt on the field, in the locker room, and in every building under the Dome.

But with the leadership of the university still standing strongly behind their head coach and his process, Jenkins did his best to put things into perspective, sounding (maybe ironically) like a father speaking of his college-aged sons.

“At any university you’re dealing with young people. The vast majority of them make good decisions,” Jenkins said. “But young people sometimes make bad decisions. Our job is to hold them accountable and to use those incidents as ways to educate them. That’s what we’re doing.”

Notre Dame releases report on Sullivan accident

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After over six months of investigating, Notre Dame released their internal report stemming from the aerial lift accident that took the life of student videographer Declan Sullivan.

The 145-page document can be read in its entirety here, but found the causes of the accident to be an irregular and extraordinary 53 mile-per-hour wind gust, staff members’ lack of knowledge regarding the current and projected weather conditions, specific characteristics of the scissor lift, and the height of the lift during the wind gust.

In his letter opening the report, school president Rev. John Jenkins had this to say:

After a thorough and painstaking study in which numerous university personnel were interviewed and external experts consulted, we have reached the conclusion that no one acted in disregard for safety. Each individual involved based his decisions and actions that day on the best information available at the time and in accord with the procedures that were in place. The procedures regarding wind safety obviously did not prevent this accident and must be brought up to the more rigorous standards that we have for other weather conditions — such as cold, heat, humidity, and lightning. Many individuals and departments share the collective responsibility for the inadequacy of the procedures that led to this tragedy. The university, then, is collectively responsible. Insofar as the President is responsible for the unversity as a whole, I am the individual who bears the most responsibility, and I accept that responsibility.

Let me conclude by expressing to the Sullivan family our deepest sorrow for the loss of Declan. You entrusted him to our car, and we failed to keep him safe. Again, I thank you for the graciousness, honesty and courage you have shown in struggling with the aftermath of this tragedy.

Nothing we do can restore Declan to his family and to this community. But one important way to memorialize Declan is to do all we can do understand the factors that led to his death and take the steps to prevent such an accident from happening again at Notre Dame — or anywhere else.

The investigation was independently observed by Dr. Peter Likins, a former member of the Knight Commission and the former Provost of Columbia and President at the University of Arizona. It was led by Dr. John Affleck-Graves, the university’s Executive Vice President.

UPDATE — The Sullivan family, through its family spokesman, Mike Miley, Declan’s uncle, says the family is grateful for the detail Notre Dame has included in the report.

“What we’re satisfied is this process is as detailed as it is,” Miley said. “At the end of the day, what we want seems to be the same thing Notre Dame wants– to avoid this sort of tragedy again with anybody, anywhere. I look forward to seeing the details about how Notre Dame moves their plan nationally.”

According to a report by the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen, after months of near-silence, expect to hear from Declan’s parents, Barry and Alison soon.

“I advised Barry, specifically, that he needs to be thinking about this in terms of sometime in the next week,” Miley said. “Just becayse of the freshness of the story and the report. At the same time, I suggested and he very much agreed, that today is not that day, because today is about the Notre Dame report. We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to look at this and thoroughly go through it. We feel like it will be a more impactful conversation with the family after that.”