VCU will have 45 days to complete and present a report regarding the recent firing of former volleyball coach James Finley, according to administrators who addressed concerned community members last Thursday.
The investigation, headed by Velma Jackson-Williams in the university’s Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity, will examine the reasons for athletic director Ed McLaughlin choosing not to renew Finley’s contract. Finley has been very public about his belief that McLaughlin’s decision was based on Finley being openly gay. The same week that Finley was fired, Pat Stauffer, an employee of VCU for over 30 years was also demoted in the athletics department. Stauffer is also openly gay, but her case will not be investigated by the university because no formal complaint has been made regarding Stauffer’s change in title.
According to provost Beverly Warren, investigations are only pursued when the complainant calls for it. Stauffer has not asked for an investigation by the university. In response to backlash from the community, VCU’s founding vice president of equity and diversity, Wanda Mitchell reached out to various equality groups at VCU to organize a forum last Thursday to address issues surrounding Finley’s termination.
As per university policy, they couldn’t discuss Finley’s case directly, but community members and groups on campus questioned the ways in which VCU reaffirms and encourages diversity on campus.
Camilla Hill is the LGBT and Women’s Services graduate assistant in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. Hill said that she was an out lesbian on the field hockey team at William & Mary and said that athletics is probably the most homophobic organization that still exists on college campuses.
“I know that regardless of what the committee finds, a lot of people are going to think that James (Finley) was fired because of his sexual orientation and I would be so afraid for athletes and other coaches to not feel like they could be out at VCU,” Hill said. She recommended mandatory diversity training in the athletic department for coaches, administrators and athletes.
Donna Coghill, a co-chair of Equality VCU, said that such diversity training programs are offered through Equality VCU, part of VCU’s Division of Diversity specifically dealing with the LGBTQ community, but they aren’t mandatory.
“Very few people have taken us up. … that’s a problem,” Coghill said, indicating that only two groups at the university have undergone the training since it was first offered last December.
Lisa Furr, a project manager at MCV’s Virginia Center on Aging and a member of Equality VCU, wanted to know how many others McLaughlin had fired or demoted.
“The only two out gay people are the only two job changes that happened … when the new athletic director (came) on board?” she asked.
Mitchell confirmed that as of Nov. 29, Finley and Stauffer were the only two job changes to occur in the athletics department since McLaughlin’s arrival in July.
Some community members spoke in support of the university leadership.
“I really trust our administration,” said Allen Lee, a professor from the department of information systems. He said university President Michael Rao and the leadership of VCU is very open and listens to the concerns of the community. He acknowledged that the the administrative process does not always deliver justice but said he still had faith in the administration.
“(Whatever) happens in this case, I just know because of the personalities involved, that something will still be done,” Lee said.
On Nov. 30, the president’s office sent a statement to the community reaffirming the administration’s commitment to inclusivity.
“My leadership team and I are profoundly committed to diversity and work to cultivate an academic and work environment that is safe and supportive. We will accept nothing less,” Rao said in the statement. The statement also said that it was important for the community not to rush to conclusions and allow the investigation to play out “in a way that is fair to all.”
Both Finley and McLaughlin were absent from Thursday’s forum.