Northwestern University Faces Backlash After Promoting Athletic Director Named in Federal Lawsuit

By  - 

During a faculty-organized protest at Northwestern University on Friday, nearly 400 campus community members gathered at the home of President Morton Schapiro to speak out against the school’s choice to promote Mike Polisky as athletic director despite his involvement in an ongoing sexual harassment lawsuit.

Polisky, who previously served as the university’s deputy athletic director for 10 years, was one of four defendants named in a federal lawsuit filed by former cheerleader Hayden Richardson in January. In the suit, Richardson alleges Polisky and other Northwestern officials failed to take action when she reported that she and her teammates were being sexually harassed and exploited by fans and donors at university events. She also claims Polisky accused her of fabricating evidence.

In response to Richardson’s lawsuit, Northwestern denied any wrongdoing and stated that Polisky had been cleared in an initial Title IX investigation. The university filed an official motion to dismiss the suit in April.

However, many students, faculty, and advocates in the community have continued to voice their concerns about Polisky and his alleged failure to protect members of the cheerleading team from sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Erika Carter, another former Northwestern cheerleader, claims that Polisky allowed for racist policies and discrimination against Black students on the cheerleading team during his time as deputy athletic director. 

“Polisky had a duty to protect and support Black athletes and female cheerleaders and he failed miserably,” Carter stated in a speech at Friday’s protest. “This is the man that Northwestern has just elected to lead the athletic department.”

Carter created a petition echoing the calls for an independent investigation that has amassed more than 1,200 signatures as of May 10.

In addition, the six faculty organizers behind Friday’s protest — all of whom are women — penned an open letter to Provost Kathleen Hagerty condemning Polisky’s appointment and requesting more transparency in the selection process.

“How is the choice of Polisky, through a confusing and opaque process, consistent with the Senate’s request for transparency and accountability on issues associated with potential abuses of power in the Athletic Department?” the faculty’s letter asks.

In a statement released last Thursday, President Schapiro defended the appointment and said that Polisky was the best candidate for the position based on his “body of work at Northwestern and his understanding of the University community, its culture and its values.” 

Schapiro plans to hold a press conference this week to formally introduce Polisky as the new athletic director, according to The Daily Northwestern.