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U of M audit raises more questions about vetting process for high-profile job candidates

Norwood Teague
Norwood Teague

A search committee conducted only a single, two-hour interview with ousted University of Minnesota Athletics Director Norwood Teague before presenting him to University President Eric Kaler as the lone finalist for the job.

Investigators released a 743-page external audit Tuesday into the finances and culture in the U’s athletics department. The report found no egregious errors in the search process but pointed out several places where the U could have been more thorough. Teague resigned in August after two U administrators said he sexually harassed them.

The search process for Teague has been a point of contention since news broke that the former AD faced a gender discrimination complaint at his previous job as athletics director at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Investigators said the U didn’t know about the complaint against Teague when he was hired, and they weren’t likely to discover the information. The university used an on-campus search committee to make the hire, as well as an outside search firm, Atlanta, Georgia-based firm Parker Executive Search. The firm was paid $112,000 for fees and expenses to find Teague.

“The External Review Team concludes that even if University had known of the VCU complaint when Teague was hired, this knowledge would not have provided notice that Teague would later engage in sexual harassment,” read the audit. “Moreover, it appears unlikely that additional vetting by the Search Committee or Parker Executive Search would have uncovered evidence that Teague had engaged in sexual harassment previously.”

But the outside investigation revealed more systemic struggles with vetting of high-level candidates in higher education, an issue reported by MinnPost earlier this fall.

The process for executive hires at universities tends to be secretive. The most desirable candidates hold similar jobs at other institutions and require that the process be confidential, according to the audit. The university search committee unanimously selected Teague as the single finalist after one interview.

“Some members of the Search Committee remarked that Teague gave one of the best interviews they had ever seen,” read the investigation. “Search Committee members indicated that they recommended Teague based on his background in fundraising and his recruitment of a basketball coach who had led the VCU men’s basketball program to the Final Four in 2011.” 

According to the audit, Teague was asked if there were “any potential issues of controversy or concern we should be aware of, i.e., legal, work-related, credit issues, civil litigation suits, etc.” Teague responded “no.”

“The question posed to Teague … was ambiguous, and left it to the applicant’s judgment to determine the disclosures that were required,” according to the investigation. “Different candidates might have answered this question differently, but neither the candidate questionnaire nor the attestation clearly required the disclosure of all complaints of any type, including those found to have been without merit.”

Parker Executive Search spoke with references provided by Teague and others, including only one reference “affiliated with VCU.” But oftentimes, references can be reluctant to say anything critical of someone while they are under their employ.

The search firm and U search committee also miscommunicated about who was responsible for conducting background and reference checks, according to the audit. Parker Executive Search ultimately did the background check, and the U said it was satisfied with the review. Search firms often do not request human resources or other documents from public institutions.

Members of the athletics department were not included until late in the search process for Teague because there were “breaches of confidentiality” during the 2002 hiring process of former Athletics Director Joel Maturi, read the audit: “The decision to rely on fewer people, however, necessarily resulted in fewer eyes on the vetting process with a narrower set of experiences.”

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Comments (5)

Isn't that nice?

They didn't know because they didn't ask and they didn't ask because no one expects them to. So mediocre background checks can't be a problem as long because they are the corporate standard. Isn't that nice. Best example of circular logic I've seen come out of a institute of higher learning in a long time.

Teaser

I liked the question that was posed in the teaser for this article, but didn't seem to make it to the final version:

"Such as: Why was Norwood Teague presented as the lone finalist for the athletic director job after a single interview?"

My entirely uninformed guess, is that the U administrators just didn't care that much. Athletics at the U doesn't rise much above the level of afterthought and administrators then were very willing to delegate the choice of a new athletic director to an outside entity. But that is just the rankest speculation on my part. Is there a better answer out there?

Vetting Process?

So the one-year investment for the U of M AD job is over half a million - $112,000 for the search firm and a salary for Teague of $400,000. I know of many public sector jobs at the $40,000 level that have more of a rigorous process and scrutiny than that.

It is really disappointing to see this continual array of poor decisions made at such a high level. At some point the Regents need to regain control of this institution. Where is the accountability for their action - or inaction?

Two whole hours of interview time, Wow!

They probably served lunch too. They should vet the vetters. I've been put through a more rigorous process for one-tenth the salary. The regents and administration of this institution are terrible, incompetent and way over-paid.

Why

Something to understand about the athletic department is that we don't understand anything about the athletic department. These numbers seem like a lot out of context, but let's remember we pay assistant football coaches a half million dollars a year. Huge amounts of cash are flying around in the department with no real control or, I would argue, interest from the administration. They truly do have more important things on their minds, and if they can delegate the responsibility of managing a department they really don't want much to do with, a hundred thousand bucks which doesn't cme out of budgets that they are really concerned about seems cheap.