Poorman apologizes for his inaction, promises to do more
University of Portland President Fr. Mark Poorman apologized to students, parents, regents, faculty and staff late Tuesday afternoon, in response to accounts of a racially and sexually insensitive speech given during Sunday's Wally Awards. Poorman has been widely criticized for sitting in the front of the room and not intervening. Many said his initial statement did not go far enough.
Poorman read his latest statement on the situation at Tuesday's Academic Senate meeting.
"As president, I was in a unique position to stop the proceedings, and I should have done more," Poorman said. "I am deeply sorry for what happened and for what should have happened, but did not."
Poorman referenced the outpouring of comments from students and alumni, saying, "In a community where we work so hard to ensure all members feel safe and respected, sometimes it is through experiencing events like this firsthand that we can truly learn. Sometimes we teach our students, and sometimes our students teach us."
News and Managing Editor Olivia Sanchez's first-person account of a sexually exploitative speech given during the university's annual athlete banquet was picked up by national news outlets Monday evening and Tuesday, including The New York Post and USA Today.
At the regularly-scheduled monthly Academic Senate meeting, Poorman said the emcee of the event, Goutham Sundaram, was involved in an active Title IX investigation. Provost Thomas Greene also sent out an email to students, faculty and staff, inviting them to submit concerns about the event to the University, including submitting anonymous reports to Title IX Coordinator Lauretta Frederking.
"You sound like a flaming bureaucrat when you talk about procedure," Poorman said to the Senate. "It's an unsatisfying response when we say we have our processes, but we have to have confidence that the process can handle it and ensure all parties are actually going to be treated fairly."
Poorman also announced that multiple forums will be held next week for students to come and have a conversation about what occurred and how the university can do better. The times and dates have not been decided, but Poorman said they would likely be in the evening.
Five faculty observers, outside of Senate, were also in attendance, and many asked questions.
"We are not what we think we are," business professor Mark Meckler said in reference to the Wally Awards. "Otherwise people would have left. We get these freshmen and we hope that those values are instilled in them over the four years. It's disturbing that (the emcee and certain attendees) were seniors."
The Senate discussed a broader issue of rape culture on campus, the effectiveness of bystander intervention training, and how it could have helped during the event. Poorman admitted that he, along with many others, froze during the offensive speech.
On the topic of more athlete sensitivity training, Interim Dean of College of Arts and Sciences Gary Malecha pointed out that athletes annually receive Title IX training.
"If there's any group of students that have been exposed to this time and time again, it's this group," Malecha said. "That's why this is very disconcerting."
Poorman said that Athletics is having a conscientious conversation about additional sensitivity training.
"I don't think we can ever rest on this," Poorman said. "We can't say we're done ever."
The Beacon will continue to follow this story and post regular updates.
Read Poorman's newest statement below:
Dear Members of the UP Community,
I would like again to address the disturbing events of last Sunday night at the “Wally’s.” I have heard from many of you, and I thank you for your engagement and investment in our community. As president, I was in a unique position to stop the proceedings, and I should have done more. I am deeply sorry for what happened and for what should have happened, but did not.
In a community where we work so hard to ensure all members feel safe and respected, sometimes it is through experiencing events like this firsthand that we can truly learn. Sometimes we teach our students, and sometimes our students teach us.
As members of our community have so eloquently stated, it is our collective duty to stand up and make our voices heard. We cannot afford to remain bystanders. If we see or hear something that violates our standards of conduct, we must speak up, speak out, and ask questions. We all must take responsibility for each other.
Many people have asked me what will happen now. I have full confidence in the integrity of the University’s policies and procedures to address these situations. The comments that night were offensive – to women, men of color, women of color, to all members of our community who believe in dignity and respect for all individuals. The student conduct process, including Title IX procedures and our policies addressing unlawful discrimination and harassment, will be used to review and determine violations of these policy areas, as well as to determine disciplinary sanctions as appropriate.
There are great expectations of us as members of this community, and we hold ourselves to a high standard. When we fail, it is a deep disappointment. But it is our responsibility to learn how to move forward. We can do better, and we will.
To this end, I have asked members of the President’s Leadership Cabinet to plan forums where community members can discuss the underlying issues behind this troubling incident and what we are doing at UP to promote a campus that is free from violence and harassment and is imbued with respect for one another. We have already taken action in these areas, from the Title IX Ad Hoc Committee to the GreenDot program to a new implicit bias training implemented by Human Resources. But this will be an important continuation of that work. You will be hearing more about these forums, which will be held next week. I hope you will plan to attend or take advantage of other opportunities for input that we will provide.
I look to our students and other members of this community to help us show the world who we really are at the University of Portland. As I have said previously, the opening of Sunday’s event was contrary to our values and to our mission. We will learn together from this incident, and we will become a better place for it.
Rev. Mark L. Poorman, C.S.C.
President, University of Portland