Willy’s Pub will remain closed for the last week of the semester due to concerns regarding the behavior of the student management team, according to Frank Rodriguez, the president of the board of Valhalla & Willy’s Permits, Inc., which oversees the business.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
According to Rodriguez, while interviewing applicants for Pub staff on April 4, a Ley Student Center staff member observed members of the Pub management team drinking alcohol in the second-floor conference room of the student center.
Director of Student Media Kelley Lash, whose office is next to the conference room, said she noticed a mess in the restroom and students with beer in the conference room.
Lash said she reported what she saw to student center director Kate Abad because she did not want students involved in student media to be blamed for any mess, which she said has occurred in the past. Lash advises KTRU, the Campanile and the Thresher, which are all located near the conference room.
“I didn’t want my students getting in trouble when I knew my students weren’t on the floor that evening,” Lash said.
Lash said she assumed the students had permission to have alcohol, since she knew they were members of the Pub staff. She said Abad told her she would refer the incident to Student Judicial Programs, who Lash later had a conversation with.
Rodriguez said he found out from several managers that the alcohol came from Pub. Pub management declined to comment on details about the incident, though they said no hard alcohol was involved and all seven managers were present during interviews.
“Alcohol cannot be taken out of Willy’s Pub,” Rodriguez said. “We have an on-premise license. Taking alcohol out of Willy’s Pub is a serious violation of the license. That was a huge red flag right there.”
Rodriguez said student center management emailed Pub’s general manager, Katie Mackall, on Thursday, April 12. The following morning, April 13, Rodriguez received a copy of the email and conferred with other members of the V&W board. He contacted Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, who concurred with the board’s recommendation that Pub be shut down for the semester. Rodriguez then informed Pub management.
“There are several that came forward and said we’re really sorry, it was a big lapse in judgment,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just a bad mistake from our point of view.”
Rodriguez said the board was concerned by the fact that the entire student management team was involved in the incident.
“We were just worried about why they did this in the first place, why they couldn’t have done it at Willy’s instead,” Rodriguez said. “So there’s a lot of questions that we’re still needing to investigate.”
According to Rodriguez, the board held an emergency meeting on Monday, April 16 at which the members decided to hold individual interviews of the seven managers, as well as the two bartenders who were serving alcohol at Pub that night. While Mackall is a voting member of the board along with Rodriguez and four others, Rodriguez said she was not invited to the meeting since it concerned the actions of her and other managers.
Rodriguez said next semester should be “business as usual,” though the board will look at whether disciplinary action is needed for management. The V&W board has the authority to suspend or remove managers, but does not normally select managers.
“Unless [selecting managers] was absolutely necessary, we wouldn’t,” Rodriguez said.
The university plays no part in making personnel decisions at Pub, according to Hutchinson. However, under the code of student conduct, a student on disciplinary probation, a sanction applied through the SJP and University Court process, cannot serve in a student organization leadership position.
Hutchinson said he would not comment on specific disciplinary cases. Generally speaking, he said unregistered organized events with alcohol are in violation of Rice’s alcohol policy, and that for the purposes of the alcohol policy there are no private spaces in the student center.
CAUSE OF SUSPENSION
Rodriguez said the primary motivation for the board was to protect Pub’s liquor license. Hutchinson said it is important to demonstrate follow-up on possible license violations for future review by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
“The future operations of both Pub and Valhalla depend 100 percent on the existence of that license, and therefore violations have to be dealt with quickly,” Hutchinson said.
Rodriguez said Purvez Captain, the vice president of the board, told him that drinking while conducting interviews is a Pub tradition. Rodriguez said that if the managers had been doing so in Pub rather than elsewhere in the student center, the board would not have deemed it necessary to shut it down.
Rodriguez said the board primarily concerns itself with Pub’s legal compliance and financial matters.
“We tend to give both Pub and Valhalla a lot of leeway to formulate their policies and manuals for training staff,” Rodriguez said. “We’re not there to hold their hand.”
Rodriguez said the board decided private sales and private events that have already been scheduled may still take place. Pub Finance Manager Kira Luscher said management will still train all new hires. After this last week of the semester, Pub will only hold private events for the duration of the summer.
While Rodriguez said he has not instructed the managers to avoid speaking about the incident and Hutchinson said he has had no communication with them, Mackall and other managers said they wanted to wait until the conclusion of investigations to comment.
“Nothing has developed fully,” Head Bartender Drew Keefer, a Wiess College sophomore, said. “[Having] a partial image out there at this stage isn’t conducive to providing answers to anybody, since there haven’t been concrete decisions made.”
Mackall, a McMurtry College junior, said management has been following student reactions to the shutdown on social media.
“We’ve definitely recognized a lot of support, a lot of interest in the situation, a lot of maybe misplaced aggression at the administration,” Mackall said.
Mackall and other managers said they had heard many rumors regarding reasons for Pub’s closure.
“There is one rumor that we have heard, that we served or we forced interviewees to drink beer,” Mackall said. “That is absolutely not the case.”
Mackall said the shutdown is personally difficult for management.
“Obviously we’re all sad,” Mackall said. “Pub is like our baby.”
While she said she was sorry for the impact on the student body, Luscher said the public shutdown is only a week long.
“It’s been generating a lot more publicity than it really needs to and I think it’s been blown somewhat out of proportion,” Luscher, a Jones College sophomore, said.
Events Manager Emma May Anderson, a Brown College junior, said the timeline of investigations is still unclear to managers. Mackall said they wished they could publicly explain more to students.
“We’re here to serve students, and we understand that right now that capacity isn’t being fulfilled,” Mackall said. “That’s something that we’re disappointed in and we’re sorry that we can’t clue the student body in more at this time.”
Editor-in-Chief Juan Saldaña contributed to this report. The print edition of this article misstated the day of Pub interviews; they were April 4, not 11.