Faculty Council debriefed on ‘challenging’ Tumpkin matter

Benson, O’Rourke take questions at meeting

Faculty Council used much of its first meeting of the new academic year to review administration’s handling of the Joe Tumpkin matter, with many acknowledging the need for improved communication.

“The Tumpkin investigation was one of the harder things I’ve worked on during my 11 years here. It was challenging,” said Pat O’Rourke, vice president, University Counsel, during a report to the council at its Aug. 31 meeting at 1800 Grant St. President Bruce Benson also attended the meeting.

“We had a very complicated investigation essentially being managed at the Board of Regents level, which is extremely rare,” O’Rourke said.

Former assistant football coach Tumpkin, who left CU Boulder earlier this year, is being criminally prosecuted for charges of domestic violence. His former partner’s allegations came to light in December when she contacted Head Football Coach Mike MacIntyre, who subsequently informed Athletic Director Rick George. The AD then notified Chancellor Phil DiStefano.

CU administration took no further action at the time, and Tumpkin subsequently coached in Colorado’s Alamo Bowl appearance. O’Rourke told the council that the chancellor determined that reporting was not required because it fell outside of the university’s jurisdiction, but later acknowledged that he should have notified the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance so that it could assess jurisdictional issues.

In June, CU announced the results of dual, independent investigations into the matter. DiStefano was suspended for 10 days without pay. George and MacIntyre agreed to each contribute $100,000 to entities addressing domestic violence. All three also received letters of reprimand and expectation.

Some members of the faculty raised concerns that the sanctions imposed were too lenient.

O’Rourke explained that President Benson and the Board of Regents tried to consider equivalent cases. For comparison, O’Rourke said, administration reviewed every case involving a failure to report at CU Boulder from 2007 to the present. In the majority of the cases, the appointing authority issued a letter of expectation. In the remaining other failure to report cases where greater discipline was imposed, there was some other aggravating factor beyond failure to report.

Referring to the Tumpkin case, O’Rourke said, “The board and the president believed that (the failures to report in accordance with policy) were legitimate mistakes. They found no evidence to suggest this was being done for some sort of competitive reason in the athletics department.”

As the two legal reports were completed, O’Rourke said, he should have had a conversation with Faculty Council to update it and discuss the administration’s reasoning, but did not believe that “discipline of administrative employees is in the realm of shared governance.” He also noted that CU ordinarily would treat a personnel matter as confidential, but made public the two independent reports after the investigation in an effort to promote transparency.

“(But) where we did fail, and I acknowledge this as something we need to do better, is recognizing that you are all members of the university community and you’re communicating with your constituents,” O’Rourke said. “We needed to better explain (these decisions) to you. ... I apologize that we didn’t do it well enough to begin with.”

Besides reporting to the council, O’Rourke also responded to questions from council members. President Benson then joined the meeting.

“I think we’ve handled it pretty well,” Benson told the council. “It’s important to fix those things as fast as you can,” adding that he was frustrated by the lengthy investigation.

Council members asked O’Rourke and Benson about the moral and ethical obligations of university leadership, going beyond the university’s laws and policies.

“I don't know how to answer that,” Benson said. “People talk about having a template for how you handle these things. ... It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s make them all simple,’ but they’re all different.”

O’Rourke said that he and all members of the president’s team are told that “the baseline expectation is, you do what’s right.”