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NEWARK, N.J. — Rutgers University announced today that it's commissioning an independent review of the conduct of fired basketball coach Mike Rice and the way the university handled the situation when it learned that he was kicking and shoving players and berating them with gay slurs in practice.
The review ensures that the saga will not end quickly or quietly.
A video of Rice's behavior was made public last week, more than five months after it was given to the university, which initially decided to suspend the coach, fine him and send him to anger-management counseling.
After it became public, the university fired Rice. Athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned and so did a university lawyer who had advised him and an assistant basketball coach. Some faculty members and others have also called for university President Robert Barchi to step down, though he's received support from the school's Board of Governors and Gov. Chris Christie.
The scandal has prompted the FBI to investigate whether a former Rutgers basketball employee tried to extort money from the university before recording practices at which Rice was seen pushing and otherwise belittling players, a person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press.
Rutgers said its Board of Governors will meet Thursday to discuss hiring the independent adviser to review the case.
Also today, board chairman Ralph Izzo said that one board member — athletics committee chairman Mark P. Hershhorn — had seen the video in December. Izzo said that it was not shown to other members and while the topic of the coach's conduct was discussed at a committee meeting in December, it was not discussed at the whole-board meeting that month. The university did not immediately respond to a request to interview Hershhorn.
Today, Barchi is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting that had been planned for last week but was postponed after a video surfaced showing Rice pushing players, throwing basketballs at them and berating them with invectives, including gay slurs.
The meeting was meant to address the sweeping plan to re-organize the state's higher education system, a priority of Gov. Chris Christie that the state legislature signed off on last year. The New Jersey Assembly will hold a budget hearing that will address the plan at the school Tuesday.
The goal, Barchi and state officials say, is to make Rutgers competitive with elite public institutions including the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. Strengthening the school would also bring in more tuition from out-of-state students who are charged more.
Barchi, a neurologist, was hired to help implement the transition and oversee a meshing of Rutgers and the state's University of Medicine and Dentistry. Some members of Rutgers’ board of governors have expressed concern over the merger, because Rutgers would absorb $500 in the medical school's debt. The merger could cost up to $75 million, Barchi said in December.
Some say Barchi's plans for the university shortchange the school's campuses in Camden in Newark.
Faculty and students here believe that Barchi is attempting to elevate the campuses in New Brunswick and neighboring Piscataway — at the expense of the campuses in Newark and Camden. There is already a proposal to merge the Newark and Camden law schools and move strong research institutions to New Brunswick.
The three campuses have been designated with different missions: New Brunswick is research, Camden is service and Newark is diversity.
Diversity has been an important issue at Rutgers since the 2010 suicide of a student who learned his roommate had used a webcam to watch him kiss another man in his dorm. Faculty members calling for Barchi's ouster cited Rice's use of gay slurs in the video — and the school president's decision not the fire Rice immediately — as indicative of Barchi's lack of commitment to diversity.
Some critics claim Rutgers wants to minimize one of the nation's most diverse campuses.
“There is institutional antagonism toward minority students,” said Beryl Satter, a professor of history at Rutgers-Newark.
Some here complained that under the restructuring law each campus will have a separate line item in the state budget, something that could potentially funnel funding away from Camden and Newark and to New Brunswick.
“It's like Robin Hood in reverse,” Satter said.
Satter and other professors held their own town hall meeting Thursday after Barchi pulled out, urging students to attend a budget hearing Tuesday on the merger and speak up about cuts.
Satter is among the professors who have signed a petition calling for Barchi's job.
H. Bruce Franklin, the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers-Newark, signed the petition and worries that the merger may set off competition between the campuses, which have previously worked well together.
“They're siphoning off funds for big time athletics and other things in New Brunswick,” Franklin said.