University’s handling of Lonergan dismissal shouldn’t set precedent for future cases

A year-long conflict between the University and former men’s basketball head coach Mike Lonergan has finally been resolved, but unfortunately there are still more questions than answers.

This month, the University and Lonergan settled their legal dispute. The settlement comes about one year after Lonergan was dismissed as head coach after allegations of emotional and verbal abuse from players. But the terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed. The University’s handling of the investigation and the statements issued following the situation didn’t offer concrete details about the circumstances leading up to the dismissal or the reasons behind it, which led to confusion from the community. In the future, the University should be more open about high-profile dismissals and take a clearer stance on the reasons behind them.

Throughout the whole process, the University offered very little information about the investigation. When Lonergan was dismissed last year, officials said the Title IX investigation found that he “engaged in conduct inconsistent with the University’s values.” Although such a statement is vague and disappointing, it is not surprising that the University chose to give out very little information about the investigation and reasons for Lonergan’s dismissal. But the lack of clarification raises a lot of questions, and the University should have been more specific. We do not know what values Lonergan violated, what the University’s values even are in the first place or if every new person hired as head coach after him embodies these values.

The University’s statement released this month, announcing that Lonergan and GW had settled their legal dispute, didn’t clear up the picture either. In the statement, the University touted Lonergan’s positive contributions to the men’s basketball team, like the fact that he took the team to the NCAA tournament in 2014 and led them to win the NIT Championship in 2016. Although the University’s part of the statement denied Lonergan’s claims about improper termination, it did not offer any information about the allegations against him that were the basis for his dismissal. This sends a conflicting message that the University is ignoring the allegations that led to his dismissal in the first place and trying to tie everything up into a neat bow. It belittles the concerns and complaints levied against Lonergan by prioritizing an amicable settlement over a true examination of the abuse allegations. Moreover, the statement gives off the message that the University does not want to take a firm stance and can even lead students to speculate that the University can’t justify the firing of the head coach.

At the College of Charleston, former men’s basketball head coach Doug Wojcik faced allegations of verbal abuse and settled within six weeks of leaving the University for an amount that was publicized. While the circumstances of the situation at College of Charleston were not the same as Lonergan’s, they are still comparable because both cases involved a coach under speculation for emotional abuse. Although College of Charleston was required to disclose this information because they are a public institution, GW should exhibit the same transparency.

There has been a lack of communication throughout the three investigations that occurred, and the lack of information regarding the settlement has given students the opportunity to fill in the blanks with speculation. The University has not released much information — as their legal counsel likely advised and agreed to in settlement terms — which is understandable. But with so little known, from the investigation of the alleged actions to the post-dismissal settlement, the result has been misinformation and the spread of rumors. This can confuse or concern incoming and current student-athletes, especially if the coach is a large factor in which school they choose to attend.

Maurice Joseph, who worked with Lonergan for five years and served as interim head coach after his dismissal, was named head coach of the men’s basketball program in March. With the team having already gone through so much turmoil in the last year, some players may be relieved to still have some consistency on the team by seeing a familiar face as their new head coach. At the same time, in terms of publicity, it doesn’t look great that someone who was present throughout Lonergan’s tenure as head coach, where he allegedly emotionally abused players, is the current head coach. Although we cannot know for sure if all the team’s staff were aware of Lonergan’s actions or to what extent, it is safe to say he was at least partially aware of what was happening, a thought that may make some student-athletes uncomfortable now that Joseph is head coach.

We need to see a change in how GW handles communication about any future investigations. Legal counsel will likely always tell the University to stay as silent on the details of investigations for as possible, and the University will likely not go against this advice. But the way Lonergan’s investigation and settlement were handled and communicated to the University was disappointing. In the future, GW should take a more consistent stance throughout the whole process when releasing statements, instead of wavering between whether to be positive or negative in their tone. The University does not need – and should not try – to make good of every situation, particularly when employees are dismissed. Now, GW should emphasize that students and faculty should continue reporting any complaints and concerns they have, and that they will take them seriously. This ensures that even if such a scandal happens again, the University is listening to its students and supports them.

Lonergan’s case has been settled, and we won’t be finding out any more information than we already know. But the University can still make sure they handle future investigations with more care.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Shwetha Srinivasan, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Anna Skillings.

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