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Utah Board of Higher Education and Utah State University Board of Trustees release joint investigative report regarding concerns raised by USU athletes

The Utah Board of Higher Education reviewed and accepted the findings of a joint investigative report conducted by independent investigators today regarding concerns raised by student athletes about purported comments Utah State University President Noelle Cockett made during a virtual meeting on December 8, 2020 regarding interim head football coach Frank Maile’s religious and cultural background.   

The meeting in question involved USU President Noelle Cockett, USU Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hartwell, and USU student athletes.  

The report concludes

“…neither Pres. Cockett nor Hartwell expressly stated that their “primary concern” about Coach Maile was his religious or cultural background, nor that his background would disqualify him as a coaching candidate. Instead, [it] conclude[s] that the inclusivity concerns raised by Pres. Cockett were designed to promote a discussion with athletes about the degree to which they felt included and welcomed at Utah State [University]. Unfortunately, likely due to some of the complicating factors expressed [within the full report], Pres. Cockett’s intent was not effectively communicated to or understood by the athletes, who genuinely felt that Pres. Cockett’s general concerns about inclusivity expressed or implied reservations about Coach Maile. [It was not confirmed whether] Pres. Cockett used the term Poly. To the extent such a remark was made, most athletes stated that they did not believe Pres. Cockett spoke with racially discriminatory animus. Instead, the athletes’ primary concern focused on Pres. Cockett’s comments about religion, a topic that Pres. Cockett appears to have addressed in the context of expressing her desire that USU be inclusive with respect to religious background.” 

After reviewing the full report, the Board issued the following statement: 

We understand the seriousness of the concerns raised by USU student athletes, and we are grateful for the thorough joint investigation conducted by Stoel Rives and Ray Quinney & Nebeker. After reviewing this report, we also understand that both President Cockett and the student athletes started the meeting on December 8, 2020, intent on discussing two different topics. As the report states, “Because the athletes were focused on expressing their support for Coach Maile, we conclude that it is likely they understandably interpreted Pres. Cockett’s comments as a criticism of or commentary on Coach Maile, which triggered a number of athletes to defend Coach Maile as being inclusive and supportive of athletes regardless of their religious background.” Whereas, President Cockett wanted to discuss the “athletes’ well-being. Top of mind…was her genuine concern that USU meet its goal of being an inclusive environment for all.”

Though some remarks made were interpreted as potential religious or cultural bias, they were not intended as such. President Cockett has long demonstrated her commitment to make USU a welcoming, nurturing environment for people from all backgrounds. Following the findings in this report, the Utah Board of Higher Education, the president’s resource and review team, and the Board of Trustees will continue to work with President Noelle Cockett to foster an inclusive, safe campus community with open pathways of communication and support. Based on this report and the input of the Utah State University Board of Trustees, the Board expresses its unanimous support for President Cockett. 

The report can be read at: 

https://ushe.edu/wp-content/uploads/pdf/misc/For_release_2021.1.15_joint_external_review_report_memorandum_redacted.pdf

Please note that portions of this report were redacted to keep names and identities confidential. 

See USU’s releasehttps://www.usu.edu/today/story/usu-board-of-trustees-releases-information-from-external-review  

Timeline of events: 

  • December 8, 2020: The meeting between USU President Noelle Cockett, USU Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hartwell and USU student athletes took place. 
  • December 11, 2020: An article was published by Brett McMurphy of “Stadium College Football Insider” detailing concerns of student athletes regarding the December 8 meeting. 
  • December 12, 2020: USU’s Board of Trustees authorized an independent external review related to the December 8 meeting between President Cockett, John Hartwell and USU student athletes.  
  • December 15, 2020: the Utah Board of Higher Education also authorized an external review and directed that the review be conducted jointly with the USU review. 
  • The investigation and joint report were completed and shared with the Utah Board of Higher Education and USU Board of Trustees. The Boards subsequently released the report and issued statements.