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Rice discusses allegations

By Rachel Marcus and Molly Chiu     4/4/13 7:00pm

Recent resurfaced allegations against Rice Director of Athletics Rick Greenspan have been met with mixed reactions across campus. An article published March 29, 2013 on SportsIllustrated.com reported that former Rice University basketball player Arsalan Kazemi claimed Greenspan made inappropriate comments about Kazemi's Middle Eastern descent to Kazemi, two other Middle Eastern players and former assistant coach Marco Morcos. The Thresher is currently unable to confirm these allegations.

Kazemi and former teammate Omar Oraby were among six basketball players who transferred away from Rice last year, and both received hardship waivers so that they could play basketball this season at the University of Oregon and the University of Southern California, respectively. The Sports Illustrated article said the allegations of discriminatory behavior were found in Kazemi's hardship waiver request.

NCAA policy dictates that any student who transfers to another university must wait one year before becoming eligible to play for the new school, according to the NCAA website. This rule can be waived if the new school applies for legislative relief, a policy which includes the hardship waivers Kazemi and Oraby were granted to become eligible to play this season at their respective schools.

According to NCAA spokesperson Christopher Radford, the NCAA does not discuss details of the legislative relief process due to student-athlete privacy concerns and therefore would not release any official hardship waivers to the Thresher.

According to the Rice Office of Public Affairs, the NCAA did not send anyone to Rice to investigate the allegations made in Kazemi's and Oraby's hardship waivers. In a letter to Rice, the NCAA openly admitted that the waivers were granted solely based on the athletes' perceptions of their environment, according to a email to the Rice community by President David Leebron and Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson. Rice then hired outside counsel to conduct an investigation into the allegations, which found no basis for the charges of discrimination, according to the Office of Public Affairs.

In a Rice News and Media statement issued in November, Greenspan and Rice Head Basketball Coach Ben Braun denied the allegations, a statement which Rice Director of News and Media Relations B.J. Almond said the university still stands by.

"USC and Oregon have included in those waiver applications meritless allegations of discrimination, including some previously asserted by a former assistant basketball coach whose contract was not renewed last spring," the November statement read. "Rice University has a strong institutional commitment to tolerance and diversity, and both Braun and Greenspan share those values and provide services and programs that accommodate the needs of a diverse student-athlete population."

After the allegations resurfaced last week, current and former members of the Rice athletic community came forward to express their opinions about the issue.

A current Rice athlete who wished to remain anonymous said she was disappointed, but not surprised when she heard about the allegations against Greenspan. She said her personal experience with him made her question his character.

"He's just kind of sketchy, dishonest and fake," she said. "I can say that we're always uncomfortable around him. He'll walk through in the middle of our weight training, making side comments, and try to be buddy buddy, but we try and keep our distance."

The athlete said she thinks Greenspan is holding Rice back and would like to see him replaced.

"We're tired of having an athletic director that does not represent what Rice is about and does not carry us forward," she said.

During a forum on the allegations against Greenspan at the most recent Student Association Senate meeting, the general consensus among athletes in attendance was that regardless of the allegations, Greenspan has not been fulfilling his role as athletic director and has interacted inappropriately with athletes in multiple sports. These athletes called for Greenspan's resignation.

The Student Association plans to act on the forum discussion. "We intend to pass legislation supporting our student athletes," SA president Yoonjin Min said. "During the forum, the opinion was voiced that student athletes felt like they were lacking support in the student body and administration, and we don't want them to feel that way. We don't want our athletes to be in an environment that they feel is unstable or uncomfortable." 

However, not everyone is calling for a new athletic director. Former Rice basketball player Nate Schwarze said he never heard any of the comments reported in the Sports Illustrated article.

"I was very close to my teammates, and if I had ever heard anyone say any of those alleged comments, I would have stepped up and said something," Schwarze said. "Not only were those my teammates, but they were [also] my friends."

Schwarze, who graduated last May and played on the Rice team for four years, said he got to know Greenspan personally when he interned for the athletic director and that he did not witness any inappropriate commenting.

"From all the hours I spent with him during my internship, on road trips and just around campus, I never heard him say any of those alleged comments," Schwarze said.

Senior Rice basketball player Tamir Jackson said he could not comment on the allegations because he had not witnessed anything.

"I never saw any of that, but I can't tell you anything because I was always in my own world," Jackson said.

A former athletic department employee said he does not believe Greenspan made any comments in a malicious manner, but rather as an attempt to be funny. The former employee said he witnessed several occasions in which Greenspan tried to be "buddies" with the athletes.

"I always thought his 'relationship-building' with the student-athletes was odd and a little intrusive," he said. "The way he spent time in locker rooms before and after games was just odd and mind-boggling. That is a sacred place that no one except for the team should be. He invited himself into these situations."

This is not the first time that Greenspan has faced controversy as an athletic director. According to the Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University's student newspaper, many students from their campus felt it necessary that Greenspan resign from his position as Athletic Director in 2008 after NCAA basketball recruiting violations surfaced.  "It's tough not to be kind of biased because Greenspan has such a sketchy background," a student who works with Rice's baseball team said. "The most telling [information] is the past."

Despite the controversy surrounding the former assistant coach and Greenspan, Kazemi has publicly stated his desire to return to Rice to receive his diploma this May. Rice will allow him to come back and walk at graduation if he has enough credits to graduate. This is the same policy which applies to any Rice student, according to Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane.

Any students who feel that they are experiencing discrimination can raise their concerns to their college master, coaches, the dean of undergraduates or Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action Director Russell Barnes.

The Rice Thresher will continue to investigate the issue and update the story as information becomes available.

Incoming Campanile Editor-in-Chief Anastasia Bolshakov and Thresher News Editor Joey Capparella contributed to this article.

The full Sports Illustrated article mentioned above can be found at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/-college-basketball-mens-tournament/news/20130329/arsalan-kazemi-rice-racial-allegations. Rice University's full statement regarding these allegations of discrimination can be found at http://www.rice.edu/statement.shtml. To read the Thresher's full coverage of Kazemi, Oraby and Morcos's departure from Rice last year, see "Exodus: Arsalan sixth player to leave Rice" at http://www.ricethresher.org/exodus-arsalan-sixth-player-to-leave-rice-1.2907456#.UV3W3jfDtj4.

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