The Knoxville Police Department has decided to replace the department’s long-time liaison with the University of Tennessee football program, a move at least in part triggered by scrutiny from the media and others about the department’s cozy relationship with university athletics.
In a separate announcement today, UT Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart said he will step down from his position next June. Hart is the latest in a growing list of top school administrators to announce their retirement or departure from the university within the past year.
KPD Chief David Rausch said Officer Sam Brown—who has served as KPD’s liaison with UT’s football team for the past 19 years—is no longer in that position, but he will remain with the department until his retirement on Jan. 31, 2017.
“This move is not the result of anything that Officer Brown has done or not done,” Rausch wrote in the emailed statement. “We decided to implement the change as a result of the reported concerns that were highlighted regarding the relationship with the Knoxville Police Department and the University of Tennessee Football Program.”
Questions about the KPD/UT Athletics relationship surfaced in April following some world-class investigative digging by reporters at the Tennessean. Records revealed that Rausch had placed “professional courtesy” calls to UT football head coach Butch Jones and other team leaders in the early stages of a sexual assault investigation involving some players. Jones, in turn, called players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, tipping them off in advance that police were investigating them on allegations of rape. Legal proceedings are ongoing.
Mayor Madeline Rogero subsequently ordered a review of what Rausch called a “long-standing practice” by the department. He said at the time that such “professional courtesy” calls were placed to UT athletics officials to allow them time to “prepare responses to the various interests” since many high-profile cases come under scrutiny. As a result of the city’s review, KPD changed its policies to where it “will make formal notification only to UT law enforcement” when students are being investigated.
In his statement announcing Brown’s transfer, Rausch said he was hopeful the adjustment would help the program move on and “avoid further undue scrutiny.”
KPD has been preparing for Brown’s departure since he enrolled in the department’s Delayed Retirement Option Program (DROP) nearly two years ago. According to the city’s website, DROP is a program that allows employees to defer retirement for up to two years in exchange for a lump-sum payment of benefits accrued during that time.
The liaison position will continue to exist. Brown is being replaced by Officer Fred Kimber, who currently works on recruiting efforts for the department. Spokesman Darrell DeBusk said Kimber will take on the role in addition to his normal work duties, with no additional compensation.
Athletics Vice Chancellor Dave Hart said he had no plans after his retirement on June 30, 2017. “Right now, I am excited about what this year has in store for us on Rocky Top,” he said in an emailed statement.
UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, who is also vacating his position next year, had nothing but words of praise for Hart and the job he’s done over the past six years. The university credited Hart with having “turned around the athletics department financially, structurally, and academically while re-energizing a now healthy Volunteer football program” during his tenure.
Cheek announced his own departure in front of a gaggle of reporters in June, saying he was planning to take a less-demanding faculty position with the university in order to spend more time with “myself, my family, and my grandchildren.” He said the move was not triggered by woes facing the university including controversies with state legislators that had UTK’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion defunded or the federal Title IX lawsuit that alleges UT mishandles sexual assault cases involving student athletes.
Several other top administrators have announced their departures in recent months.
Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion Ricky Hall turned in his resignation just one day before his office saw its funding cut by state legislators.
Senior Vice Chancellor and UTK Provost Susan Martin in March announced that she planned to vacate her position and return to teaching in the Department of Classics. Her last day as provost was Aug. 1.
Vice Chancellor of Communications at UTK, Margie Nichols announced her plans to retire in February, shortly before Martin made her proclamations. Nichols’ announcement came not long after being placed in charge of blog posts for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which had started to catch ire from some state representatives over posts about gender neutral pronouns and holiday office parties.
UT Institute of Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington will retire at the beginning of September.
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