Alcohol, ‘sexual entitlement’ two factors Boston University wants to moderate after task force findings

A “celebrity culture” exists among Boston University men’s hockey players, one that can lead to “unacceptable and destructive behavior,” according to the report of a school task force released Wednesday.

The task force was put together last spring by BU president Robert Brown after two men’s hockey players were charged with sexual assault last season. Its task was to identify if changes were needed on campus in relation to student-athletes’ conduct.

It identified 14 recommendations, including the elimination of the executive athletic director position held by men’s hockey coach Jack Parker. Parker agreed to step down from the executive athletic director position and stay on as coach.

The complete report can be found on Brown’s website, with highlights below.

“The Task Force concluded that the unique culture of men’s ice hockey, played at the highest collegiate level, and the preeminent status of our team on campus contribute to a celebrity culture and an isolation of these athletes from the majority of our student body. I believe this situation is exacerbated in men’s college hockey where professional teams frequently draft players before they enter college, an observation contained in the Task Force’s report. This insular and elevated status can lead to unacceptable and destructive behavior, including a culture of sexual entitlement and abuse.

The 14 recommendations the Task Force has made are based, I believe, on careful consideration of information collected in the course of the group’s deliberations and are designed to improve oversight of the hockey program and foster the success of these student-athletes and their integration into the university community. Other recommendations deal with more systemic issues of sexual assault/harassment and alcohol abuse on campus. We are moving to implement the majority of the Task Force’s recommendations as rapidly as possible.

For example, the new Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center (SARP) opened on August 27 at 930 Commonwealth Avenue. The center’s staff will work with victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment from across campus. In addition, the SARP staff will offer sexual assault awareness and prevention education. We are also implementing sexual assault and violence prevention educational programs for the members of the men’s hockey team.

The report and the investigation of possible breaches in NCAA rules both highlighted the lack of clear reporting lines for the men’s ice hockey program. To regularize reporting relationships, Jack Parker, men’s ice hockey coach, has stepped down as executive director of athletics and will focus all his efforts on coaching. We also have reorganized reporting relationships in the athletics department to provide clear lines of responsibility and accountability among the coaching staff, the athletic director, senior administrative leadership, and me. These changes also will ensure that potential violations of the code of student responsibilities by student-athletes will be handled through the university’s judicial process under the auspices of the dean of students.

Also as recommended by the Task Force, the athletics department has been charged with updating its student-athlete code of conduct so that it clearly articulates our expectations for student-athlete behavior and the sanctions that will be imposed for violations. This code and team rules must be consistent with the university’s code of student responsibilities.

It is clear that excessive alcohol consumption has played a role in the majority of the instances of alleged sexual assault or other inappropriate behavior that have been identified through the work of the Task Force. We are reviewing the recommendation about how best to implement a comprehensive, campus-wide program aimed at moderating alcohol use by our students.

The role of intercollegiate athletics is to provide opportunities for individuals who are fully committed to their college education to participate in competitive sports. Our community revels in the success of our teams and our individual athletes. Men’s ice hockey has a storied history and has defined the pinnacle of athletic success at Boston University. We owe it to our student-athletes, including the members of our men’s ice hockey team, to help them be successful students at Boston University while performing at the high level required for NCAA Division I sports. The athletics department has been asked to develop a plan that will help better integrate members of our hockey team into the student community, paying special attention to student housing accommodations and student life.

Issues such as excessive use of alcohol and a sense of sexual entitlement in a subset of students, which were studied and discussed by the Task Force, have plagued college campuses for decades and are strongly coupled to norms that are deeply embedded in our society and extend beyond the boundaries of any one campus. We must work diligently toward providing our students the best possible environment for living and learning in the context of the pressures from society and each other.

“I appreciate all the time and effort put forth by the members of the task force to complete their thorough review of our men’s ice hockey program,” BU assistant vice president and athletic director Mike Lynch said in a statement. “The university has our full support as our staff incorporates the findings. We look forward to putting into action their recommendations, many of which we have already begun. Throughout this process, we have ensured that the university administration and our athletic department continue to share the same goals in regards to our men’s ice hockey program and its future as part of BU’s campus life.

“This has been a challenging year, but we are ready to move forward as an even stronger athletic program.”

The task force reported that it found no evidence of major NCAA violations, and also no evidence that the issues are unique to Boston University.

“I would like to commend the members of the task force for all the hard work they put in this spring and summer,” Parker said in a statement. “I think their summary of findings is accurate. More importantly, I feel their recommendations for action will help our team, other student-athletes and the student body in general to ensure a better all-around experience. I fully agree with the NCAA and task force’s recommendation to split up my two jobs. When asked to choose one or the other, it was easy for me to choose my position as our head hockey coach. My staff and I endorse the findings and it is our job to implement and monitor the recommendations that are specific to the hockey team.”

The task force was co-chaired by university provost and chief academic officer Jean Morrison and Dr. Jonathan Cole, chair of the academic affairs committee of the board of trustees and provost emeritus of Columbia University.