University of Portland President Fr. Mark Poorman apologized to students, parents, regents, faculty and staff late Tuesday afternoon, in response to accounts of a racially and sexually insensitive speech given during Sunday’s Wally Awards. Poorman has been widely criticized for sitting in the front of the room and not intervening. Many said his initial statement did not go far enough.
Poorman read his latest statement on the situation at Tuesday’s Academic Senate meeting.
“As president, I was in a unique position to stop the proceedings, and I should have done more,” Poorman said. “I am deeply sorry for what happened and for what should have happened, but did not.”
Poorman referenced the outpouring of comments from students and alumni, saying, “In a community where we work so hard to ensure all members feel safe and respected, sometimes it is through experiencing events like this firsthand that we can truly learn. Sometimes we teach our students, and sometimes our students teach us.”
News and Managing Editor Olivia Sanchez’s first-person account of a sexually exploitative speech given during the university’s annual athlete banquet was picked up by national news outlets Monday evening and Tuesday, including The New York Post and USA Today.
At the regularly-scheduled monthly Academic Senate meeting, Poorman said the emcee of the event, Goutham Sundaram, was involved in an active Title IX investigation. Provost Thomas Greene also sent out an email to students, faculty and staff, inviting them to submit concerns about the event to the University, including submitting anonymous reports to Title IX Coordinator Lauretta Frederking.
“You sound like a flaming bureaucrat when you talk about procedure,” Poorman said to the Senate. “It’s an unsatisfying response when we say we have our processes, but we have to have confidence that the process can handle it and ensure all parties are actually going to be treated fairly.”
Poorman also announced that multiple forums will be held next week for students to come and have a conversation about what occurred and how the university can do better. The times and dates have not been decided, but Poorman said they would likely be in the evening.
Five faculty observers, outside of Senate, were also in attendance, and many asked questions.
“We are not what we think we are,” business professor Mark Meckler said in reference to the Wally Awards. “Otherwise people would have left. We get these freshmen and we hope that those values are instilled in them over the four years. It’s disturbing that (the emcee and certain attendees) were seniors.”
The Senate discussed a broader issue of rape culture on campus, the effectiveness of bystander intervention training, and how it could have helped during the event. Poorman admitted that he, along with many others, froze during the offensive speech.
On the topic of more athlete sensitivity training, Interim Dean of College of Arts and Sciences Gary Malecha pointed out that athletes annually receive Title IX training.
“If there’s any group of students that have been exposed to this time and time again, it’s this group,” Malecha said. “That’s why this is very disconcerting.”
Poorman said that Athletics is having a conscientious conversation about additional sensitivity training.
“I don’t think we can ever rest on this,” Poorman said. “We can’t say we’re done ever.”
The Beacon will continue to follow this story and post regular updates.