Cal Poly knew, ignored coach’s transgressions

September 15, 2011

Jon Stevenson

Cal Poly officials have known for years that serious, repetitive allegations against women’s volleyball coach Jon Stevenson were credible, but ignored the ample evidence and refused to act until prodded by imminent newspaper exposure. [NewTimes]

Stevenson started this season as head coach but was “relieved of his coaching duties” Sept. 4, according to the New Times.

Numerous former players said they endured sexually-charged innuendo, improper touching, inappropriate meetings and a fear-based environment under Stevenson’s leadership.

Twenty-three women interviewed by the university — after officials finally began to investigate the flood of complaints — testified they left Cal Poly because of Stevenson. Of those, many abandoned full scholarships in departing.

After the university’s own probe into Stevenson’s behavior was completed in 2010, officials placed their conclusion under lock and key. It contained this paragraph:

“Mr. Stevenson has intruded on player’s personal time and lives without attention to appropriate professional boundaries. He has sown fear, divisiveness, and distrust among his players. He has attempted to isolate them from supportive networks and access to recourse to address their concerns. At times, he has made them feel inadequate and unworthy. He has created an environment described by players as unpredictable, unsafe, destructive, and miserable. We cannot believe that such an environment would be regarded by the NCAA as ‘representing the honor and dignity of fair play and the generally recognized high standards associated with wholesome competitive sports.’ It is our conclusion that Mr. Stevenson has created an environment that is detrimental to the members of the team …

The report also noted, “For most of (Stevenson’s)  players, volleyball, once a source of great joy and pride in their lives, became under his direction a source of unnecessary mental suffering and unhappiness.”

Stevenson was not fired after that report was finished, filed, and forgotten. But he was put out to pasture five days after reporters interviewed Cal Poly officials in early September.  A severance settlement is pending.

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Unfortunately, it seems the way this was handled is all too common at Poly. There are horrendous stories of faculty harassing their students, and the university knows about it, but nothing’s done. People who have been out of line for a decade continue to teach. This is surely only a tiny minority of teachers and coaches, but the university has a head in the sand attitude towards harassment until something like the New Times expose makes things so hot they have to save face.

“Head in the sand” is too gracious. This is a “sweep it under the rug and hope no one notices” coverup. Who knows how many other such situations have occurred and similarly been covered-up.

Thanks to CCN for pursuing and reporting on this.

Cal Poly has a conformist culture: if you dare stick out by bringing attention to an issue that makes cal poly look “other than good”, you get knocked down by the administration. This culture has forced many good calpoly employees and students to simply keep their mouths shut. Worst of all, if you want to be successful at Cal Poly, all you need to do is openly support those who hold positions of power. I hope CCN does more stories such as this one; they could one per week and literally never run out of material.