The University of Athletic Department is resisting providing an easy answer to a question that Athletic Director Jeff Long could readily answer: Is there any severance payment to Robert Pulliza, who abruptly resigned yesterday as women’s volleyball coach following complaints by players about his treatment of them.
I asked the question yesterday. I got no response. I followed up today, reiterating what I’ve always said to the secretive department: My original request was a Freedom of Information Act request.
That did get an acknowledgment today from Kevin Trainor, who serves as department spokesman.
Good morning. I’m writing to acknowledge your request. Any potentially responsive records would be in active use or storage.
I will follow up with the requested records consistent with Arkansas FOIA.
The invocation of “active use or storage” gives the department three days to set a time for an opportunity to inspect records that would provide an answer to a question that Jeff Long could answer in a few seconds or relate to Trainor for a reply in a few seconds.
My followup question to Trainor, so far unanswered, is whether the department is now among the first to use Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s flawed opinion in response to a question from Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, in which she more or less said any electronic files (e-mails and the like) should be considered “in storage” and thus release could be delayed.
I agree with others who’ve said this is poppycock. The “storage” provision was included to provide time to respond on records not easily obtainable — think a 10-year-old court file sent to a county warehouse — not to give officials a new excuse for opaqueness in the electronic age.
Rutledge’s opinion — which has no force of law but gives cover to any who wish to avail themselves of it — is an obstacle to the free flow of information. Jeff Long knows what Pulliza will be paid — if anything — as going away money. He could provide an answer through Trainor as readily as he could provide a phone number to purchase a ticket to the Liberty Bowl, information that is also “in storage” somewhere. But Long is not genial under questioning. The million-dollar public employee threw me off his Twitter feed for noting the big SEC TV deal made it easier for SEC schools to balance rapidly growing athletic budgets.
The volleyball matter is particularly sensitive because Long is responsible for firing a successful coach, Chris Poole, and replacing him with Pulliza, who leaves with a lackluster record and a black mark on player handling. As Bob Holt wrote in the Democrat-Gazette today:
Pulliza, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, was a Kentucky assistant when Long hired him as the Razorbacks’ coach July 14, 2008. Pulliza replaced Chris Poole, who left Arkansas for Florida State, where he remains the coach and has led the Seminoles to seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
Poole was Arkansas’ first volleyball coach and held the job for 14 years, leading the Razorbacks to nine NCAA Tournament appearances in his last 12 seasons.
Pulliza’s record at UA was 122-124 in eight years with NCAA tournament appearances in 2012 and 2013. Not to say this is a big deal in Razorback World. Pulliza is only paid $129,000. At least seven administrators in the athletic department, who coach nothing, make that kind of money or a lot more. Football assistants make double, triple and quadruple that amount.
A reliable source says Pulliza’s volatile temperament was no secret to those who’d been near his team practices. In a statement denying abusive treatment, he himself admitted a tough love approach. Long is naturally sensitive to the publicity, even in a minor woman’s sport. For an athletic director with a good national reputation and high-profile participation in football playoff selection (and some say an ambition to eventually land the Michigan A.D. job some day), no black marks are welcome. Perhaps that explains the peevishness on responding to a simple question, particularly from me.
You might say Long is in storage, too, along with Pulliza. Neither has taken a question from anyone since the controversy began, relying on prepared statements released through Trainor.
Meanwhile, I’ve also asked others at UA — not the Athletic Department — for word when a presumed review by the campus Title IX compliance office is completed on the matter. Pulliza’s departure does not release the larger university from a review of complaints of sexual discrimination on campus, the definition of which includes abusive treatment. Nor should it. If the Pulliza allegation has merit, the university, particularly Jeff Long, also has some official explaining to do.
UPDATE: It appears the UA has no interest in this matter any longer. Response from media relations:
The University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance has ceased its review of this matter. If necessary, based on the facts and circumstances, a review of alleged violations of civil rights could continue beyond the point of an employee’s resignation. In this case, between the distinct efforts of OEOC and the Department of Athletics, those reviewing the matter obtained a clear understanding of the facts and circumstances regarding the volleyball program. OEOC identified no potential Title IX implication in its review.
With respect to a report, we would consider any request for such a record consistent with Arkansas law. As you are aware, the FOIA statute contains exemptions for records that would be considered student education records and also for job performance and employee evaluation records. The applicability of such exemptions would be evaluated as to the specific record involved.
My response to that:
Thanks. Sorry to hear it. Because, editorial comment, if students were mistreated there’s an obligation of knowing if people who remain on staff knew about it but failed to act.
I would like any records that could be released relevant to allegations of sexual discrimination in the form of threatening or abusive treatment by staff in the Athletic Department. Based on the response so far, I gather I will get nothing. But let me play out the charade.
I would like to ask the chancellor of the university whether he feels any obligation to the community at large to know that all responsible for proper conduct have acquitted themselves properly and that the departure of a person who’s subject to allegations is not merely an effort to sweep the matter under the rug.
I’d also like to ask the university if it holds with apparent Athletic Department interpretation of FOI that any digital record may be deemed in storage and simple questions about severance arrangements, if any, need not be answered by using that excuse as subterfuge for delay.