By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – The University of Michigan continues its silence on the saga of former kicker Brendan Gibbons, whom the school expelled in December after an Office of Student Conflict Resolution investigation found Gibbons “engaged in unwanted or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature … (that) was so severe as to create a hostile, offensive, or abusive environment.”
His expulsion came four years after the alleged incident; and Gibbons played during the entire interim.
In a phone interview Monday, university spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined comment on an investigation by the Central Student Government that found that head coach Brady Hoke likely lied when he cited a family matter in Florida as the reason Gibbons would not travel to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Fitzgerald also steadfastly stuck to the school’s say-nothing script when asked whether a coach would know an athlete had been expelled and what he would be allowed to communicate about such a situation.
When a report surfaced that the university expelled Gibbons last December for an alleged sexual assault that took place in 2009, many questions arose about why the action took so long and why Hoke said Gibbons missed the bowl game due to a family matter when the university had “permanently separated” itself from Gibbons by that time.
According to its report released Monday, the Central Student Government task force found that the university failed to explain the delay in punishing Gibbons and that Hoke likely lied about Gibbons.
Fitzgerald said the university had no comment on specific findings in the report, including its conclusion that Hoke issued false statements about why Gibbons would not travel with the team to the bowl game.
Fitzgerald also had no response to the more general inquiry of whether it is customary for athletic director Dave Brandon and coaches such as Hoke to be alerted when student disciplinary actions such as expulsion are taken against athletes.
“I just don’t have any response on the specifics in that report beyond the general statement that we’ve released that we’re thankful that Central Student Government has brought this matter to wider visibility and we hope that it’ll lead to more victims of sexual misconduct reporting those to the university,” Fitzgerald said.
Gibbons, who told police at the time of the incident that the sex was consensual, was not charged with a crime.
Hoke has faced questions about the matter several times, but like the university, he has referred to federal student privacy laws as a reason to stay mum about Gibbons and the timeline of events that ended with his expulsion.
“I can’t say anything,” Hoke said, evidently in a reluctant manner, after the team’s first spring practice, according to MLive. “I don’t like that, but I can’t.”
Fitzgerald gave a vague response when asked whether a coach is allowed to announce or confirm that an athlete has been expelled, but the implication appeared to be that a coach cannot reveal such information.
“We don’t discuss the disciplinary matters of any of our students,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald would also not say whether or not expulsion could be classified as a family matter if indeed revealing an expulsion is not an option.
“I just have to reiterate that whether it’s someone like me, someone in student life, someone in athletics, the university takes very seriously the position that student disciplinary matters are not something to be discussed in public,” Fitzgerald said.
As far as who dictates the reason publicly given for an athlete missing a game, whether that decision is made by a coach, athletic director or someone further up the chain of command, Fitzgerald said there is no set procedure.
“It could vary depending on the situation,” Fitzgerald said. “Again, in most cases, we don’t discuss publicly student disciplinary matters, so there isn’t a normal practice of anyone discussing student disciplinary matters here.”
A federal investigation into how the university carries out its sexual misconduct policy is ongoing.