Northwestern has hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to lead investigations into the athletic department's culture and its accountability mechanisms after allegations of hazing and mistreatment that have impacted several of the school's sports programs.
Lynch, now working for the New York-based law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, will begin her reviews immediately. University president Michael Schill has said Lynch's findings will be made public, unlike those of a university-commissioned investigation of hazing allegations within the football program earlier this year. The earlier investigation, which corroborated some of the allegations, initially resulted in a two-week suspension for longtime football coach Pat Fitzgerald. Schill soon reconsidered the penalties for Fitzgerald and fired the coach three days later, citing a culture that had been partially "broken."
Northwestern is facing lawsuits from several former football players, as well as from a former volleyball player, who alleged hazing and abuse under coach Shane Davis. The school also announced July 13 that baseball coach Jim Foster had been relieved of his duties after an investigation into allegations of bullying and mistreatment. Attorneys representing former Northwestern athletes who have filed lawsuits say more are coming, impacting other sports, including softball and soccer.
"Hazing has absolutely no place at Northwestern. Period," Schill said in a statement. "I am determined that with the help of Attorney General Lynch, we will become a leader in combating the practice of hazing in intercollegiate athletics and a model for other universities. We will provide all of our students with the resources and support they need and do whatever is necessary to protect their safety and ensure that our athletics program remains one we can all be proud of."
Lynch served as U.S. attorney general from 2015 to 2017 under President Barack Obama. She also served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York and has made several stops in private practice.
Northwestern announced no timetable for Lynch's review but said she will provide updates to Schill and to the audit and risk committee of the school's board of trustees. Her investigation will include feedback from current students, alumni, faculty and staff.
On July 18, Northwestern announced the two reviews: one into how Northwestern detects threats to its athletes and implements accountability within the athletic department and one into the department's overall culture. The culture review is designed to ensure it is "consistent with the university's mission and values as a leading academic institution."
"The athletics department welcomes this review as a critical tool in identifying the additional steps Northwestern can take to eradicate hazing," athletic director Derrick Gragg said in a prepared statement. "By making the results of her review public, we hope our entire community will be better informed and guided as we all work to address this critical issue in college athletics."
Northwestern has already implemented additional monitoring for the football program after the first investigation, including a locker room monitor who does not report to the coaches or staff. Before every season, each Northwestern team will go through mandatory, in-person anti-hazing training led by a group outside the university. The football team will have its training Thursday ahead of the first preseason practice. Northwestern is set to open the season Sept. 3 at Rutgers.