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Did Rutgers Athletic Director Cross The Line?


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Later in the program, we'll have the latest developments in the case of George Zimmerman. That's the man charged with murdering the unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. That's a case that's gotten a lot of national attention. We'll have the latest developments there.

But first, we're continuing our Beauty Shop roundtable. That's our panel of women writers, thinkers and journalists. With us are Jennifer Ludden; she's national correspondent for NPR, covering families and social trends. Michelle Bernard is the president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women Politics and Public Policy; that's an independent women's think tank. And Rana Foroohar is an assistant managing editor for Time magazine; she covers business and economics.

So now I want to talk about an interesting story in sports. Julie Hermann is the new athletic director for Rutgers University, and she has been criticized even before she starts the job. The New Jersey Star Ledger recently reported that the - The Newark Star Ledger recently reported that the players that Hermann coached on the University of Tennessee volleyball team said she was verbally and mentally abusive.

A letter that several members of the team wrote says that Hermann called players, in quote, you know, language warning here now, "whores, alcoholics and learning disabled," unquote. Not only that, but Hermann's also been involved in multiple wrongful termination suits, including one for allegedly discouraging her newlywed assistant coach at the University of Tennessee from getting pregnant and another that accused her of sexual discrimination while she coached at the University of Louisville.

Now, of course, you know, you all remember that part of the reason she was named to this position when that position was vacant is that the prior person who held that position was found to have not - been inappropriate with players, calling them names, a male - not handling a situation where a male coach was abusive to players.

So, you know, all the more reason why that this is under scrutiny. So Michelle, you played sports in high school. So I want to ask, you know, what do you think about this?

MICHELLE BERNARD: It's - it's troubling. Athletes are, I think, by and large, are different than non-athletes and are motivated by different types of coaches. Like, for example, I was speaking to someone about Vince Lombardi, and I think he was a tough coach, but it was a testament to him that his players loved him.

The more you read about this new coach at Rutgers, not as an administrator but when she was a coach, there seems to be a definite problem. I have not seen any research yet that shows that any of her former players have any sort of endearing - found any endearing features about her whatsoever, and it seems like they are going to have a problem.

There is the assumption that the female was going to be kinder and softer and gentler than the person she is replacing, and it looks like Rutgers might have a serious problem on their hands with her as a coach rather than as an administrator.

MARTIN: Jennifer?

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Yeah, it's - the irony is I wonder how much this factored in. You know, they thought maybe we need a kinder, gentler face to the Athletic Department, bring in a woman, and here they have the very, you know, echoes of the same kinds of allegations of this harsh personality. And, yeah, so, you know, gender equality.


MARTIN: It is interesting, isn't it, that some of the things that she's being accused of, you know, pressuring someone not to have a baby. Why would that be? Because you'd lose focus. So...

LUDDEN: Well, and that, you know, do we talk about the wedding video? I mean, she was talked about - in 1997 there was her former assistant coach won $150,000 settlement for alleged discrimination because she says she was pushed out when she had a baby. And she produced this wedding video where Julie Hermann was at her wedding clearly in a - Hermann says she was being a smart aleck, and it was tongue-in-cheek, saying ha, ha, don't have too much fun on the honeymoon, you know, it would hard to have a baby in the office.

You know, a lighthearted a moment, a little tongue-in-cheek, and Hermann says the problem was that her work fell off. But Hermann also says she didn't remember the entire event, didn't remember being a bridesmaid in the wedding.

BERNARD: Or even being at the wedding.

LUDDEN: Being at the wedding.

MARTIN: Where she was a bridesmaid. Rana, what do you think?

RANA FOROOHAR: Well, I just want to jump in and say, I mean, I too - I am kind of amazed, as the mother of two children, at the mythology that continues that somehow women with children, and particularly with young babies, are less effective. I mean, I know a couple of high-level CEOs that tell me they can't wait to hire working moms because they are the most efficient people on the planet, you know.

I mean, talk about time management. Every working mother I know is like the most effective person in meetings. You know, they're in, they're out, they're not messing around, they're very focused. And I just think it's so interesting that we keep having the same conversations when I bet if there was some serious quantitative research on this, we would find very different things.

MARTIN: You know what's fascinating to me, though, is whence comes this assumption that a female coach is going to be nicer? Where does that come from?

BERNARD: Exactly.

MARTIN: And I just - this is again fascinating to me. I mean, I know that there are people who have sort of assumptions that women as leaders tend to be more ethical, or they're more group-minded, less focused on self. But again, isn't that an assumption? Is that an assumption? Is that borne out by any facts?

BERNARD: It's an assumption, and here's the other thing that I think has been interesting by reading so much about this is that the assumption about sex discrimination in the workplace is always that it is a male colleague who is discriminating against women in the workplace.

And what we see here is that if all of these allegations against her as an employer have proved true, women are just as capable of sex discrimination as males.

MARTIN: Rana, I'm curious, though, if there's some data on this. I mean, there's been some very interesting research which, you know, you know, about what effect it does have to have women as team leaders. And there's also this whole question of whether there's critical mass. Like are you the only one? You know, and if you're the only one, what effect does that have on your behavior? Do you feel you have to be tougher than tough in order to win the respect of your colleagues and those who are evaluating you?

FOROOHAR: Right, yeah, no, I mean, there's so much research on any number of threads of this topic. I will say that I think that the crucial thing that's driving change, it's female economic power. I think if you just look at some of the statistics we were talking about earlier, women are making more of the world's new earned income than men, not just in this country but elsewhere.

I mean, they're basically becoming richer, and thus they're becoming more powerful. They're taking more decisions. They already, even when they're not working, say a stay-at-home mother that's part of a nuclear family, they make more purchasing decisions than men.

So companies, smart companies are already very much tuned into that. Now I think that the thing about getting women up the ladder and helping them become leaders is crucial because it requires a real sea change in our workforce that I think is taking a long time.

It has to be not about face time but about productivity. I mean, I happen to, and you may be able to tell this from my phone being a little scratchy, I'm working from home today, got up early, am finishing my column. I'm going to be taking my daughter to a doctor's appointment at 4 o'clock. I'm lucky enough to work for enlightened people that believe that, you know, as long as my stories are in on time, and they're good, it's not as important where I'm going to be.

I also come from a culture, having been a foreign correspondent, of, you know, if you're in the office, you're actually not doing your work. You should be out getting the story. And not every job is set up to accommodate that, but we need to realize that we need to empower people, make them more entrepreneurial and think about work in an entirely different way. I mean, everything - economics, technology, gender issues - are pushing us in that direction.

MARTIN: We need to leave it there for now. Clearly a lot to talk about here. Rana Foroohar is an assistant managing editor for Time magazine. She covers business and economics. She was with us from New York. Here in our Washington, D.C., studios, Jennifer Ludden, national correspondent for NPR, covering families and social trends. And Michelle Bernard, the president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women Politics and Public Policy, an independent think tank. Thank you all so much for joining us.

BERNARD: Thank you.

FOROOHAR: Thank you.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.