“We have a million questions”: Faculty, students react to former athletic director Jaime Hoffman lawsuit

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This story is part of an ongoing series.

Former Athletic Director Jaime Hoffman filed a lawsuit against Occidental College and President Jonathan Veitch on 16 causes of action Sept. 24. The lawsuit was the culmination of a series of dramatic events on campus, particularly the cancellation of the college’s 2017-2018 football season. The lawsuit and removal of Hoffman as athletic director prompted an almost immediate flurry of public reactions from the campus community.

Among the first to respond were members of the Occidental faculty in emails shared on the faculty Listserv. Their comments followed the Aug. 17 email from Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Flot announcing that Hoffman would not be returning to the athletic director position in Fall 2018. Professor of Critical Theory and Social Justice (CTSJ) Mary Christianakis was one of the public responders to the email.

“I don’t think we can have gender equality under this administration. I think it’s impossible. The leadership has to change, and I don’t know if we can have gender equity if the board of trustees allows this to happen,” Christianakis said. “There has to be a deep dig on why this kind of culture has been able to persist. Why are all these women in leadership positions attacked?’’

Christianakis said she believes women of color in positions of power are increasingly vulnerable to public scrutiny without institutional support.

“An intersectional slice of this shows that black women are disproportionately targeted in leadership positions, and even though they haven’t been fired, we have black women in leadership positions who students feel comfortable attacking with no protection from the faculty,” Christianakis said.

Christianakis said she does not want the college to be sued, but that Occidental needs to take steps to avoid legal liability.

“The institution needs to right these wrongs. And to support their employee in being able to do their job to the best of their ability — we haven’t done that. So, they give direction that’s actually similar to the requests that Jaime made, and they weren’t willing to do it,” Christianakis said.

Math professor Nalsey Tinberg is concerned both about Hoffman’s future and the treatment of women on campus.

“The non-debatable point is they have ruined this woman’s career. That is absolutely unacceptable to me,’’ Tinberg said. “She’s at a point in her life where she was excelling, and it has stopped her career dead in its tracks, and that is truly an unfortunate circumstance and very unfair in my view.”

Tinberg said that, despite disagreements in the past, she thought Hoffman was an outstanding athletic director.

“There’s just no question about that, and the current political atmosphere is not helpful, but I think Jaime’s right when she says, you know, we have a mission to live up to and that includes women, people of color, people with some disability and lesbian and gay and queer folks,” Tinberg said.

Much of the controversy over Hoffman stems from the decision to end the 2017–2018 football season. Football player Carlton O’Neal (senior) said the meetings with Hoffman were contentious, but much has been revealed since then.

“We have a million questions,’’ O’Neal said. “Never did she deflect to the board or Veitch, so in our minds, she was making the decision [to cancel the season]. But honestly, is she the person? Probably not. Is she the one that made the decision? No, which sucks.”

He said that the lawsuit illuminated a lot for the football team.

“Because now we know the administrators canceled our season. Everyone knows that now,” O’Neal said.

Lacrosse player Neah Bois (senior) said she remembered a day when Hoffman talked to the tour guides about how to present Occidental as a school for athletes.

“She was really enthusiastic and got the heart of what it means to be an athlete at Oxy,” Bois said.

Hoffman understood that Division III athletics wasn’t just about winning championships, Bois said.

Some athletes felt Hoffman did not offer enough support as an athletic director. Tennis player Cameron Coe (senior) said that Hoffman was never present at tennis matches during his career at Oxy.

“I never saw her at one of our matches, which kind of bothered me. If you’re the athletic director, you should be involved with the teams,” Coe said. “I understand that we play off campus and might not have been having a successful program in the past, but in my three years while she was the athletic director, she never attended any sort of tennis event.”

Coe said that while the team lacked visible support from Hoffman, he believes issues such as coach turnover and equipment were due to insufficient administrative funding for athletics.

Track and field athlete Emma Yudelevitch (senior) said that it was difficult to hold Hoffman accountable as an athletic director when there was little clarification on what the position entailed.

“I felt, as the biggest team on campus, we didn’t get any visible support from the athletic director, but I can’t say how crucial that is to the jobs and duties of an athletic director — if they’re supposed to work internally or externally. I’m not really sure. We didn’t fully know what an athletic director is supposed to do and so never really held her accountable in that way,” Yudelevitch said.

Soccer player Nicole Castro (senior) said she thought that Hoffman supported all of her teams equally and was not biased toward one team or the other, but she was unsure of Hoffman’s role in allocating money to teams.

“I’d seen her at our preseason meeting at the beginning of the year. She gave a general, informal, just kind of, ‘Hey, I’m your AD,’ a simple introduction,” Castro said. “It’s kind of hard to see where the support comes from and I’m not really sure in what form, whether it’s allotting money or talking to other coaches about getting their teams to come to certain events.”

Both student-athletes and faculty voiced the need for increased transparency from the administration.

“We just want to know more about what’s going on on our campus. I want to know what is being spent where. What is our budget? How are teams allocated and what are they allocated?” Bois said.

Professor of Diplomacy and World Affairs Movindri Reddy said that she was concerned about the growing distance between administrative decisions and the faculty as well as the message that Hoffman’s firing sent to female staff, faculty and students at Occidental.

“What does it say in terms of our commitment to diversity, in terms of the way in which we handled it? If she was doing a poor job, then this should have been clearly stated. There should be nothing to hide,” Reddy said. “We find that the administration has not been forthcoming in this process — this could be due to the fact that there’s a lawsuit on the table, but it could be due to other reasons as well. I don’t think there’s anyone on the faculty who isn’t disturbed by this, even if they are not articulating it to the public.”