The University of Colorado at Boulder received so many black marks this year, it's hard to focus on just one. The September death of eighteen-year-old frat pledge Lynn "Gordie" Bailey made national headlines and stoked the school's reputation as a bastion of wanton drunkenness -- despite a tightening of university alcohol policies that took effect just before Bailey died. A sloppy student riot on Halloween didn't help. Even animal lovers had a beef with CU: After the university declined to release 34 lab macaque monkeys to an animal sanctuary in Oklahoma, a group called "Free the CU 34" protested on behalf of the primates.
But it was sex, and lots of it, that brought the most embarrassment to Buffsland, as a federal lawsuit filed by three women who claim they were sexually assaulted by CU football players or recruits in 2001 continued to dog the administration. Two expensive internal probes and a grand jury investigation later, athletic director Richard Tharp and Chancellor Richard Byyny are out (the former resigned; the latter split for a new, more lucrative post with CU's Health Sciences Center), but head football coach Gary Barnett is very much in, despite reports that he habitually backed players against potential charges of sexual assault and ignored improper, even illegal, student behavior. After a three-month paid suspension, he returned to the field in May; late this year, he was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.
Guess the AP, like university president Betsy Hoffman, just doesn't get it.
In May, a 51-page report filed by the Independent Investigation Commission -- a body set up by the CU Regents to investigate, among other things, whether the athletic department uses sex and booze to recruit blue-chip athletes -- strongly suggested that Hoffman should give the boot to the whole lot. Instead, just as the regents rallied to her defense, the prez promised the public that the boys' club would remain intact. And in a deposition she soon gave in the federal case, she put her literary education to bizarre use by dropping Chaucer and suggesting that the word "cunt" is sometimes used as a term of endearment. Go, CU!
Hoffman's semantic snafu was just one of many jaw-dropping moments in the mess. (Cue Barnett's "Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. There's no other way to say it" response to former kicker Katie Hnida's interview in Sports Illustrated, during which she told Rick Reilly that she'd been sexually assaulted by a teammate.) And in hindsight, Hoffman's medieval reference was oddly fitting, considering that the university's treatment of the alleged victims has remained determinedly unenlightened since the ball dropped on the whole scandal. At a public meeting where the independent commission's findings were released, for example, CU regent Jerry Rutledge told the families of football players that "no one has suffered more than you." Seems Heather Sturm, who resigned as the head of CU's Rape and Gender Education Program in August, and Amy Robertson, the director of CU-Boulder's Office of Victims' Assistance, who split in September, were right when they said CU fostered a culture of hostility toward women and complicity toward athletes.
The public may never be privy to a full portrait of that culture. Although the federal case is still scheduled to go to trial in May, one plaintiff dropped out earlier this month, characterizing CU's defensive tactics as "guerrilla warfare." A report compiled by the grand jury convened by Attorney General Ken Salazar remains sealed, in part because the regents requested it. Although the contents of that report are rumored to be highly critical of the CU administration, the grand jurors indicted just one person -- former athletic-department employee Nathan Maxcey, who maintains that the calls he made on a CU cell phone to madam Pasha Cowan's escort agency were for him, and him alone.
And the game isn't over yet. At the end of the year, new questions arose about financial transactions involving CU, the CU Foundation and the football school run by Barnett, promising plenty of shameful revelations in the new year.
When Montrose County Coroner Mark Young declared the death of 31-year-old William Rardin a homicide rather than a suicide in late September, he sparked a national debate -- and a recall effort. After the Grand Junction man, an organ donor, shot himself in the head, Young argued, doctors were so eager to harvest his organs that they failed to properly complete the testing and paperwork necessary to declare him officially brain-dead. But if Young simply wanted to point out the holes in the system by which we document death, his motivation was lost on most people; after a statewide review committee concluded that Rardin had indeed died of self-inflicted wounds, Young changed his ruling. That was good news for Rardin's family: Had the death remained a homicide, they would have had a heaping medical bill to add to their woes; under the suicide classification, those expenses were covered by the Donor Alliance. But the reversal alone wasn't enough to satisfy those who claimed that Young -- a paramedic, not a doctor -- had brutalized a family in order to make a point. While they dropped a recall effort in late December, they've vowed to make sure he doesn't get re-elected two years from now.