Ohio State Trustee Resigns, Saying Urban Meyer Punishment Was Too Soft

Ohio State Trustee Resigns, Saying Urban Meyer Punishment Was Too Soft

Jeffrey Wadsworth, above, resigned as an Ohio State trustee, saying Urban Meyer’s punishment should have been more “profound.”CreditCreditPaul Vernon/Associated Press
  • Aug. 30, 2018

An Ohio State trustee has resigned, saying a three-game suspension of the football coach Urban Meyer should have been more “profound” for his mishandling of domestic violence accusations against an assistant coach and for tolerating years of the assistant’s misbehavior.

The trustee, Jeffrey Wadsworth, said in an interview on Thursday that he stepped down from the board shortly after the university announced Mr. Meyer’s punishment last week.

“I didn’t feel that I’d seen high-integrity behavior,” Mr. Wadsworth said of Mr. Meyer.

He said he was the “lone voice” of dissent in advocating for a harsher punishment, but declined to specify what he proposed or to speak in great detail about the closed-door negotiations, saying he wanted to respect the confidential words of board members.

“Most people were concerned about whether it was a several-game suspension or not,” he said.

“To me,” he added, “there was something altogether wrong about reducing it to a couple of games.”

Mr. Wadsworth, a retired engineering executive, is the first of the 20 board members to speak publicly about the outcome of a university investigation that concluded Mr. Meyer had failed to fulfill obligations to report allegations of domestic violence against the assistant coach, Zach Smith, to other university officials.

The inquiry also found that Mr. Meyer had sought to delete records from his cellphone. And it found that Mr. Smith’s behavior, including failure to pay cellphone bills, a stint in rehab for substance abuse and “promiscuous and embarrassing sexual behavior” raised several other red flags. Mr. Smith has denied ever abusing his former wife, who made the allegations.

Investigators found discrepancies between Mr. Meyer’s account of some events and others’, and in at least one instance suggested that Mr. Meyer had lied to them.

“You read the report,” Mr. Wadsworth said, “and there’s seven or eight things about emails, memory loss, hearing things five times, and to me, that raised an issue of standards, values — not how many games someone should be suspended for.”

Mr. Wadsworth, a former board chairman, said he emailed a short resignation letter to the university president, Michael V. Drake, and the board chairman, Michael J. Gasser, about an hour after the outcome was announced at a news conference that followed last Wednesday’s nearly 12-hour board meeting.

Students walked on the Ohio State campus this week.CreditMaddie McGarvey for The New York Times

In a statement on Thursday regarding Mr. Wadsworth, the university said: “The president and the board of trustees had a frank and comprehensive discussion last week. A wide variety of perspectives were expressed in reaching a consensus. Mr. Wadsworth has been an exceptionally valuable member of the board. His service to the university is deeply appreciated, and we wish him the very best.”

Mr. Wadsworth said he left the meeting a few hours after it began at a lunch break and did not know the result until it was announced.

“It became clear to me where we were, discussing penalties, and I wasn’t ready to do that,” he said, explaining his early departure. “I was in a different place.”

He “had larger concerns,” he said: “I felt that getting into a limited number of games that was a suspension missed the point of a bigger cultural concern about ‘What message were we sending?’ ”

The meeting began with remarks from Mr. Drake, and was followed by the trustees going around the room and offering their own opinions, Mr. Wadsworth said.

Although there was a sense that there was a “range of options, from doing nothing to firing” Mr. Meyer, Mr. Wadsworth said, “that is different than deliberating it,” and the board quickly settled on a discussion of a suspension.

The tone of the meeting remained respectful, he said, but he felt he needed to resign because he could not defend the outcome. In contrast, he said, there was a public budget vote a few months ago on which he was the lone “nay.”

Mr. Wadsworth said he believed the punishment came across as lenient, citing several articles that came out afterward, including a USA Today column with the headline, “It’s Urban Meyer University Now.”

“I read all these articles,” Mr. Wadsworth said, “and I’m embarrassed.”

Mr. Wadsworth, who was appointed to the board by a former Ohio governor, Ted Strickland, and whose term was to have ended next year, retired last year as president and chief executive of Battelle Memorial Institute. Battelle, which is based in Columbus, is a nonprofit that explores new technologies. While at Battelle, Mr. Wadsworth managed several United States Department of Energy laboratories and was also the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

On Wednesday, Mr. Smith, who was fired on July 23 by Mr. Meyer and the athletic director, Gene Smith, after a misdemeanor trespassing charge and a protection order against him were reported, broke his silence with an extended, angry thread of tweets. He accused the news media and his ex-wife, Courtney Smith, of misrepresenting events.

He wrote on Twitter: “Let’s talk FACTS since so many people (mainly opposing fanbase’s fans) want to talk,” he said. “1. My kids are suffering because of all this (most important) 2. I never beat my wife 3. OSU botched the investigation and worse the ‘punishment.’ ”

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