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Barchi gets Ledger's support

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After a week of negative news headlines, the Julie Hermann saga at Rutgers University is getting its share of attention in the state's editorial pages.

Hermann was hired to clean up the athletic department after the Mike Rice scandal. Rice, the former men's basketball coach, was caught on tape screaming obscenities and throwing basketballs at players. Yet the school didn't fire him until the tape became public.

The Star-Ledger broke the news that Hermann was accused of verbal and mental abuse while a volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee. She left that post after her team wrote a letter complaining about her treatment of players.

The Star-Ledger has been aggressively driving the story in its News and Sports pages, but the paper took a softer approach in its editorial page Sunday.

The editorial argued Rutgers President Robert Barchi deserves another "mulligan" for the Hermann hire, adopting what seems to be the conventional wisdom among many in Trenton, that Barchi is indispensable to the ongoing merger of Rutgers and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The paper even goes so far as to suggest Barchi is doing New Jersey a favor by sticking around: "If he were pressured to leave, or if he even walked away in disgust at the overheated criticism, New Jersey would be the big loser, not Barchi," the paper wrote.

The paper also published an op-ed by Rutgers general counsel John Farmer. Farmer took on that role after the university's former general counsel resigned in the wake of the Rice scandal.

Farmer compares Hermann to former President Bill Clinton, who, while running for president in 1992 had less than satisfactory answers to questions about his own past — think "I didn't inhale" and his alleged "draft dodging."

If Clinton deserved a shot at being president despite his past, then Hermann deserves a shot as athletic director, Farmer suggests.

"Those of us who supported Clinton are hypocrites, pure and simple, if we apply different and unforgiving standards now to Hermann," Farmer wrote. "Unless, that is, we are so far gone now that we consider serving as athletic director of a Big Ten program somehow more important than serving as our commander in chief."

Of course, critics might point out that Hermann's past involves some of the same behavior she has been hired to eradicate. Few would say marijuana use and draft-dodging were the most pressing issues facing the country back in 1992.

Farmer also defends Rutgers' vetting of Hermann, insisting the school had no way of knowing her entire volleyball team had written a letter accusing her of verbal abuse.

"How did the Rutgers search committee miss Hermann's history of abusive coaching?" Farmer said. "I was not a member of the committee, but there is nonetheless a simple answer: There was no hint that the allegations of abusive coaching had ever existed."

Interestingly, the Star-Ledger editorial makes a similar claim, excusing the Rutgers search committee for not uncovering Hermann's history.

"Remember, too, that the most damaging information on Hermann emerged after she was named," The Star-Ledger wrote. "A more vigorous search may have turned up more, yes. But no one could know that Hermann would be dishonest in her response to the criticism."

The paper says Hermann would be doing Rutgers "a favor" if she were to resign, and argues the school shouldn't be afraid to "shove her overboard" if Hermann can't restore her credibility.

While The Star-Ledger is sticking by Barchi, the Asbury Park Press has already called for both Hermann and Barchi to resign. In an editorial last week, the paper said Gov. Chris Christie or the Rutgers board of governors should remove the two if they don't agree to step down.

"If there was ever any doubt about his (Barchi's) fitness to serve as head of the state university, that should settle matters once and for all," The Press wrote.

NJBIZ also weighed in on the scandal this week, calling for Barchi to take a more active role in athletics.

"We still believe a big-picture guy like Barchi is a requirement to fulfilling New Jersey's higher education mission," the paper wrote. "But somebody show him what a football looks like, or something, because if he doesn't start paying attention to his athletics department, he may never get the chance."

Despite the concern, it seems Rutgers is committed to Hermann. Farmer closed his op-ed unequivocally.

"She starts June 17," he wrote. "Period."

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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