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Northwestern faculty group seeks delay of Ryan Field renovations after football hazing scandal

Northwestern professors want to pause plan to renovate Ryan Field
Northwestern professors want to pause plan to renovate Ryan Field 03:04

CHICAGO (CBS) -- After Northwestern University fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald over a hazing scandal, many are raising concerns about Northwestern's plans for a massive upgrade at Ryan Field.

CBS 2's Sabrina Franza spoke to a Northwestern professor calling for more oversight of the $800 million renovation of the school's football stadium.

Fitzgerald's firing over the hazing scandal has caused a ripple effect among season ticket holders, alums, and faculty, who are raising concerns about the proposed Ryan Field rebuild. Construction was supposed to begin after the 2023 season, with the stadium reopening in 2026, but calls to delay the project are growing louder.

Those opposed to the project have argued Northwestern must more fully address allegations of hazing and harassment before they break ground on a new stadium.

"The timing now is wrong," said professor Susan Pearson, one of a group of Northwestern faculty members asking for a pause on the new Ryan Field proposal.

"Say we care more about your well-being than we do about the notoriety, the fame of our football program," she said.

She and five other faculty members co-authored a memo to university president Michael Schill and athletic director Dr. Derrick Gragg.

"We believe the university should halt that planning and marketing process until this crisis is satisfactorily resolved," she said.

To them, that means independent oversight of the athletic department, something they've been asking for since news broke of a separate scandal in 2021: claims of sexual harassment made by members of Northwestern's cheerleading squad.

"To look into not just the football team, but to kind of do a systematic needs assessment of the athletics department."

Alumni and investors have also been speaking out, sending memos of their own. We've concealed their names to protect their identities.

One ticket holder for over 40 years wrote he "can't believe how badly it has been handled."

Others have supported Fitzgerald, calling him one of the "best guys in the coaching profession."

It's not clear how many season ticket holders have canceled their plans thus far or how it will impact the future of the proposed new Ryan Field stadium.

"A lot of us faculty members feel like it's really time for the administration to try to get out ahead of these problems," Pearson said.

Praise, criticism for Northwestern's handling of football hazing scandal 02:43

Fitzgerald was initially handed only a two-week suspension without pay on Friday. Still, Schill said on Sunday he may have erred in handing down that punishment following the completion of an investigation into the hazing allegations.

Schill's letter spelled out scant new details of the school's investigation, including that 11 current and former players acknowledged that "hazing was systemic dating back many years." The acts included "forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature," and it was "well-known by many in the program." He added the independent investigation "failed to find any credible evidence that Coach Fitzgerald himself knew about it."

However, on Monday, after new details of the scandal were made public in the Daily Northwestern student newspaper, Schill announced in a letter that he informed Fitzgerald he was relieved of his duties, saying the coach ultimately is responsible for the culture of his team.

Fitzgerald has said he didn't know about the alleged incidents. Schill has said the results of the independent investigation into the hazing scandal will remain confidential.

On Saturday, the Daily Northwestern detailed what an anonymous former player described as an "abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout the program for years."

In one alleged ritual known as "running," he says a younger player would be restrained by eight to 10 older players while they dry-humped him in a dark locker room. 

Latino offensive lineman Ramon Diaz Jr. is the first former Northwestern player to go public with his allegations.

"Rubbing your genitals on another person's body, I mean, that's coercion. That's predatory behavior," Diaz Jr., an offensive lineman for Northwestern from 2005 to 2009, told CBS Mornings on Tuesday.

Diaz, now 36, said hazing was common in the locker room. 

"People were urinating on other people in the showers," he said.

The son of Mexican immigrants said he was not only the target of sexualized hazing incidents but also rampant racism. In one instance, he says he was forced to have "Cinco de Mayo" shaved into his hair as a freshman. 

"It's very intentional," he said. "You could have put anything, or you could have shaped anything into my head. And they decided that that would be the funniest."

Northwestern said that while an independent investigation did not find "sufficient" evidence that the coaching staff knew about ongoing hazing, there were "significant opportunities" to discover it.  

"Everybody saw it," Diaz said. "So many eyes. I mean, there were so many players, and nobody did anything, and they just let this go on for years."

Diaz said his experience at Northwestern drove him to become a therapist.

"We were conditioned and put into a system that has broken, and that has ruined many lives, including mine," he said. "I was driven by what I saw, and those images will never leave me for the rest of my life."

The Daily Northwestern also published reports on Monday that detailed possible racism within the football program.

While the school president did not address alleged racism in his decision to fire Fitzgerald, a spokesperson told the school paper they are looking into the allegations.

In a letter to several media outlets, the Northwestern football team supported Fitzgerald, calling the allegations "exaggerated" and "twisted" and saying Northwestern football players do not tolerate hazing. 

In a 2014 video, Fitzgerald said his program had a zero-tolerance policy for hazing. 

"We've really thought deep about how we want to welcome our new family members into our programs and into our organizations; hazing should have nothing to do with it," he said at the time.

In light of some Northwestern faculty calling for a delay of the Ryan Field project in the wake of the hazing scandal, CBS 2 reached out to large investors on the project, including the stadium's namesake, Patrick and Shirley Ryan, whose family donated $480 million to various initiatives at Northwestern, including the planned football stadium rebuild. They did not respond to our request for comment.

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