HOLMBERG: Is sexual orientation the reason a VCU coach is being let go? We need answers.

Posted at 11:53 PM, Nov 28, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-29 07:32:44-05

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- Virginia Commonwealth University’s athletics department has been in the national news during the past couple of years because of its scrappy basketball team and coach.

But now that department is in the national spotlight again, this time because VCU’s successful woman’s volleyball coach, James Finley, is alleging he is losing his job because he is openly gay.

“The thing that just stabbed me,” Finley said, “the thing that I knew what was going on is when he (the new athletic director) told them (his players) that he needed somebody that would represent the university well. I was just devastated.”

College coaches lose their jobs for all kinds of reasons – even winning coaches.

But it would be against  VCU’s strict antidiscrimination policy for a coach (or student or professor) to get the boot for being gay or lesbian.

Finley turned around a program that had been big-time losers. His eight-year record: 151 wins and 116 losses. While he had some losing seasons recently, the just-finished season was the team’s best ever.

The school and the athletic department had embraced Finley, and his sexual orientation. The VCU Rams website noted the name of his husband and that they were living together with his husband’s son. They said they felt welcome at the university.

At least until new athletic director Ed McLaughlin arrived in August. Finley said the AD didn’t talk with him or come to his matches. Finley said the little contact he had with McLaughlin troubled him enough to tell his husband that his new boss had a problem with him.

Still, Finley said he was smiling when McLaughlin called him into his office two weeks ago to talk about his contract. His players were excelling on the court and in the classroom.

He was floored when he was bluntly told his contract would not be renewed. “It was over in three, four minutes, max,” Finley recalled. “And I was walking down the stairs in a daze, just completely in shock.”

Adding fuel to the fire was Patricia Stauffer, an openly  lesbian associate athletic director,  losing one of her titles, Senior Woman Administrator, since McLaughlin’s arrival. Stauffer did not have time to talk with CBS-6 Wednesday night.

There is nothing usual at all about a college athletic director bringing in his handpicked coaches and administrators to boost his program, to put his stamp on it.

And that’s what McLaughlin basically said in his prepared statement and what it says on the VCU Rams women’s volleyball page - that they were going in a new direction.

And, in fact, McLaughlin has already reached back in his past for his executive associate athletic director, Glenn Hofmann, who worked with him at Niagara University.

But this hire could also raise some eyebrows.

In August, one month after VCU hired McLaughlin, Hofmann resigned his job as Athletic Director at Merrimack College in Massachussetts after an independent misconduct investigation. That conduct was never publicly revealed, but the resignation was pretty big news at the time.

Hofmann joined McLaughlin’s VCU team soon after his resignation.

VCU appears to be standing with McLaughlin with this statement released Wednesday, emphasizing the core value of diversity at the school:

“Personnel actions are confidential.  We adhere to federal and state laws and regulations that protect the privacy of our employees and the conditions of their employment.  The employment action was taken in compliance with appropriate VCU employment practices and policies.
VCU and its athletic director, Ed McLaughlin, are fully committed to the core value of diversity – as reflected in the university’s diversity statement and strategic plan.  As the Commonwealth's most diverse university, we practice the spirit of that policy statement every day.”

VCU’s anti-discrimination policy states: Virginia Commonwealth University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution providing access to education and employment without regard to age, race, color, national origin, sex, religion, sexual orientation, veteran’s status, political affiliation, gender identity or gender expression.

This the university that, in 2010, basically told attorney general Ken Cuccinelli to go fly a kite when he said Virginia universities didn’t have legal standing to protect students and faculty from discrimination based on sexual orientation. If you know anything about this school, you know they are far from uptight.

We’re told the university, including its president, is looking into this. If there’s any truth to the allegations, this will blow up in their faces just as badly as when VCU gave a diploma to a former Richmond police chief after he took just a couple of classes.

But this is a university,  I believe, that has honored diversity. I believe this will be worked out, and quickly.