Protests, march over hiring of new Northwestern AD named in cheerleader sexual harassment lawsuit

Saturday, May 8, 2021
Protests, march over hiring of new Northwestern University Athletic Director Mike Polisky
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The organizers say they're embarrassed and dismayed by the new athletic director selection and the message it sends to the Northwestern community.

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- Northwestern University faculty are rallying outside the university president's home Friday night, questioning why Mike Polisky was chosen as the school's new athletic director.

The group marched about a mile up from the campus to gather outside President Morton Schapiro's house. The organizers said they are embarrassed and dismayed by Polisky's selection and the message it sends to the Northwestern community.

"We want to know that he's safe to be around our students," said Northwestern Professor Elizabeth Shakman Hurd. "We want to feel that there's full transparency and accountability."

That lack of confidence was sparked by a federal lawsuit that was filed in January against Northwestern and employees, including Polisky.

The lawsuit, which alleges a Northwestern University cheerleader was sexually harassed and assaulted by alumni and fans, specifically accuses Polisky of knowing cheerleaders "would be forced to engage in commercial sex acts."

He's also accused of attempting to cover up misconduct in his previous role as deputy director of athletics for external affairs.

In a statement Thursday, Schapiro said of the lawsuit "Northwestern denies that it or any of its current employees violated any laws."

READ: President Schapiro's letter to community members on new AD appointment

"Regardless of what happens legally, we want to know -- did he do the right thing when those cheerleaders came up to him and said, 'Hey this is going on,'" Shakman Hurd said

Professor Shakman Hurd, as well as other female faculty, have written multiple letters of concern amid the cheerleading allegations. The latest specifically questioning Polisky's promotion.

The university said an outside firm reviewed Polisky's background, pointing out that a former FBI agent and former federal judge were involved in the process.

Still, on the Evanston campus Friday, some students are disheartened by the choice.

"It's disappointing to see how they've reacted to that and then going and rewarding this man, the new athletic director, by promoting him to position," said Lena Fulkerson, a Northwestern senior.

"I question his, his leadership abilities and competence with handling allegations," added Davis Johnson, a Northwestern Sophomore.

One student also said she appreciates the faculty's support. As for the professors who joined the demonstration, they are now calling for another more independent review of Polisky and ask that his promotion be put on hold for the time being.