Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite had an inappropriate consensual relationship with a student in 2009, while on a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
A statement released by Applewhite disclosed the following:
"It was a one-time occurrence and was a personal matter," Applewhite said. "Shortly after it occurred, I discussed the situation with DeLoss Dodds. I was upfront and took full responsibility for my actions. This is and was resolved by the university four years ago." (USA Today, February 2, 2013)
A statement issued by Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds described the relationship as "consensual behavior with an adult student." Applewhite was disciplined, having his salary frozen until Jan. 1, 2010.
At issue is this, did the Dodds and the athletic department comply with the university's policy on consensual relationships between faculty, staff, and students? The policy is straightforward; it essentially exists to deal with situations like this one, and the likely more common case where a professor or instructor has an affair with a student. Relationships that fall within the scope of this policy must have the potential for a conflict of interest.
A conflict of interest and/or an appearance of impropriety arises when individuals with the authority and the responsibility to evaluate the work or performance of an employee, student or student employee initiate, acquiesce or engage in an intimate romantic and/or sexual relationship with that employee, student or student employee.
The policy spells out what is supposed to happen when a consensual relationship occurs between a staff member and a student where a conflict of interest exists:
Should such a relationship develop, the teacher, supervisor or advisor has the obligation to disclose its existence to an immediate supervisor and cooperate in making alternative arrangements for the supervision, evaluation, teaching, grading, or advising of the employee, student and/or student employee.
Provided that the relationship is reported, the policy does not spell out any disciplinary measures; it simply states that actions must be taken to remove the conflict of interest. Punishments are described in the case that the relationship is not disclosed.
Employees in positions of authority who enter into or persist in consensual romantic or sexual relationships without reporting them, or who fail to cooperate in efforts to eliminate the conflict of interest or appearance of impropriety they present, will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
Based on this, there are three plausible scenarios:
1. Applewhite had a relationship with a student not affiliated with the athletic department, in which case it seems unlikely that he should be in significant trouble.
2. Applewhite had a relationship with a student affiliated with the athletic department, but disclosed it as suggested by the information released. In this case, the punishment he already received is likely sufficient.
3. Applewhite had a relationship with a student affiliated with the athletic department, and it was not disclosed in compliance with the policy. There is no evidence to suggest that this happened, and if the statements released by Applewhite and Dodds are taken at face value, it likely did not happen. But if this scenario is the right one, there will be a lot of trouble.
Complicating matters is the recent resignation of Texas womens' track coach Bev Kearney. Kearney, a decorated and highly successful coach, had an affair with a student in 2002. The university only recently learned of this affair. When Kearney was informed that the university was going to fire her, she resigned instead.
Kearney is now exploring legal action, which likely explains the timing of this release of information about Applewhite.
Derek Howard, Kearney's attorney, said Monday that he and the coach were discussing her legal options, including a gender and race bias lawsuit. He planned to file open-records requests with the school this week, he said. He claimed that male coaches and professors at the school had similar relationships and weren't punished. (CNN, January 8, 2013)
CNN also provided excerpts from an email pertaining to the Kearney matter sent by Patti Ohlendorf, head of the university's legal affairs department. In it, Ohlendorf wrote that she did not know of any other "UT head coach who has entered into such a relationship with a student-athlete on his or her team."
That is a highly specific statement. Key portions of that statement are "head coach" and "student-athlete on his or her team."
We will follow this situation closely.