The University of Colorado president was
criticized Tuesday for refusing to condemn a vulgar anatomical
reference allegedly used to describe a female football player who
says she was raped by a teammate.
University President Betsy Hoffman's comments in a federal court
case sparked a fresh storm of protest surrounding Colorado's
flagship school. Women's groups and a member of the Board of
Regents said they were appalled by what they called Hoffman's lack
The comment came during a deposition given this month in a
lawsuit filed by three women who say they were sexually assaulted
by football athletes in 2001.
One of the women's attorneys told Hoffman the vulgar term had
been used by a football player against teammate Katie Hnida. The
attorney asked Hoffman whether she thought the term was "a filthy
and vile word."
Hoffman replied it was a "swear word" and that its meaning
depended on the circumstances in which it was used, according to a
copy of the deposition released by the school.
Asked if it could ever be used in a polite context, Hoffman
replied: "Yes, I've actually heard it used as a term of
University spokeswoman Michele Ames said Hoffman knows the word
has "negative connotations" but it did not in its original use
"Because she is a medieval scholar, she is also aware of the
long history of the word dating back to at least Chaucer," Ames
said. English writer Geoffrey Chaucer lived in the late 1300s and
used the word in "The Canterbury Tales."
"She was in an extremely adversarial deposition with attorneys who have brought federal litigation seeking monetary damages from the university, Ames said in a second statement. "In an effort to not allow the attorney to dictate to her a definition of the word, she defined it herself as a swear word. She was then asked if she was aware of a non-negative definition. She replied from her scholars knowledge. "
The comment drew the ire of Regina Cowles, president of the Boulder National Organization of Women, who called Hoffman's response outrageous and not acceptable.
She said Hoffman's defense of the word, "doesn't even pass the red-face test."
"It is so clear what that word is about," she told the Boulder Daily Camera
. "It's used to dehumanize a woman, and strip her of her decency."
Hoffman's comments recalled football coach Gary Barnett's ill-fated
description of Hnida in February after she told Sports Illustrated
she had been raped by a teammate in 2000.
Barnett called Hnida an "awful" player as he answered
questions from reporters about her time on the team. He was
suspended shortly afterward by Hoffman, who said his comments about
Hnida and another woman accusing an athlete of rape had left her
Regent Jim Martin called Hoffman's comments "more outrageous"
because they were made under oath by the university's top leader.
"I'm embarrassed for the university, I'm embarrassed for her
and, quite frankly, it shocks the sense of human decency," Martin
said. "She needs to give an immediate apology ... talk about an
ivory tower approach to management."
He added: "We're getting glimpses of the way the university
does business, of the way the university administrators think."
Hoffman had consistently drawn praise from regents and others
university observers during the recruiting scandal, which included
allegations that football athletes assaulted nine women during
boozed-up parties. No criminal charges have ever been filed, but
the school made sweeping changes to its athletics program.
Nine women met behind closed doors with Gov. Bill Owens for an
hour Tuesday, urging him to pressure Colorado to take more steps to
protect women. They said Hoffman's comments are proof the school is
"We're very disappointed," said JoAnne Belknap, a sociology
professor who met with Owens.
Claudia Bayliff, who runs a Boulder rape crisis center, said the
school has made no attempt to train employees outside the football
program on how to deal with sexual harassment and violence.
"As the father of a young woman who attends college here in
Colorado, I understand and share many of their concerns," Owens
said in a prepared statement after the meeting. "I believe we
share a common goal that a college campus should be a safe,
Owens has little power over the university, which is governed by
the elected regents. He said he told the women the school has been
making progress in dealing with the scandal, but some issues remain
under investigation by the attorney general.
It was another deposition that plunged the school into scandal
earlier this year. Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan
accused the school of using sex and alcohol to entice recruits to
the Boulder campus.
An independent commission appointed by the regents concluded
some players used sex and alcohol to entertain recruits, but no
coach or school official knowingly sanctioned the practice.
Still pending are the federal lawsuits that accuse Colorado of
failing to protect women under federal Title IX law, which
guarantees equal access to an education. The suits seek unspecified
A statewide grand jury has also been hearing testimony from
athletes and a former recruiting aide accused of paying $2,000 to
an escort service. The aide, Nathan Maxcey, has said any sexual
liaisons were for him.
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