Simpson's parents level accusations at school

Updated: May 4, 2004, 9:18 PM ET
Associated Press

BROOMFIELD, Colo. -- Parents of a woman who claimed she was raped by University of Colorado football players and recruits said Tuesday CU leaders ignored mistreatment of women until public pressure forced them to recognize it.

Rick and Karen Burd, whose daughter Lisa Simpson is suing the university, told an investigative panel that CU officials have worked for years to shift blame, leaving nobody ultimately responsible.

"One thing is apparent, no one is accountable," said Rick Burd, Simpson's stepfather. "They have always acted concerned and as soon as we left, they would go about their business."

In a written statement, university spokeswoman Pauline Hale said Chancellor Richard Byyny recalled telling the Burds during a January 2002 meeting that CU was changing its recruiting practices.

"His recollection is that the parents were complimentary about the support she was receiving from the university," Hale said.

Recruits who attended a 2001 party at which Simpson said she was raped were not allowed to enroll at CU, and some players who attended were stripped of their scholarships.

The investigative panel was appointed by CU regents to look into alleged mistreatment of women in the athletic department. The Burds told the panel that they Byyny, CU president Elizabeth Hoffman, athletic director Dick Tharp and football coach Gary Barnett should be fired.

Barnett was suspended in February in part for disparaging remarks he made about former placekicker Katie Hnida while responding to her claim that she was sexually assaulted and harassed by teammates. Hnida now attends the University of New Mexico.

Hoffman has said she will decide on Barnett's future this month.

Besides Simpson, who has agreed to allow her name to be used in news stories, two other women have sued CU alleging they were sexually assaulted by players or recruits at or just after the Dec. 7, 2001, party at Simpson's off-campus apartment.

The lawsuits claim the university fostered an environment hostile to women.

At least five other women since 1997 have accused players and recruits of rape. No sexual assault charges have been filed, but the state attorney general, appointed by the governor as a special prosecutor, is investigating.

Karen Burd said that in her meeting with Byyny and Vice Chancellor Ron Stump, they told her about a similar alleged rape in 1997.

"I truly believe that there would be no changes to the recruiting policy, no panel, no investigation if this hadn't become so public a few months ago,'' she said. "Had they done anything other than what they did, could Dec. 7, 2001, have been prevented?"

Also Tuesday, the panel heard from Jeannie Dixon, a former assistant athletic director for community relations, who filed a sex- and race-discrimination complaint against the university. She joined the department in 1998 and left last summer after her position was eliminated by budget cuts.

Dixon, who said she was the only black person and one of only two women in management in the department when she left, said the results of voluntary gender-equity surveys she conducted in 2001 and 2003 showed women and minority athletic department employees felt discriminated against. She said athletic director Dick Tharp took no action that she knew of.

"Women were underutilized, felt they were worker bees and were not promoted or compensated at the same rate as their male counterparts," she said.

She told the panel that she believed there was a connection between the elimination of her position and the surveys, saying she was the only department employee terminated due to budget cuts.

Air Force Col. Debra Gray, one of five Air Force Academy leaders appointed during a shakeup last year amid a sexual assault scandal, told the panel that cultural and institutional change requires time and careful thought.

"In any large organization ... there are a multitude of processes and I think if they're not knitted together properly there can be disconnects,'' she said. "If you don't understand the dynamics of sexual assault, you will build a great system, but will not solve the problem."

The panel plans to present its report to CU regents later this month. It scheduled meetings Monday and Tuesday to approve the final version.

Asked by a panelist how the alleged attack and publicity about the lawsuit have affected her daughter, Karen Burd said for a short time afterward, Simpson couldn't walk on campus alone.

"Her whole life has changed and it will be forever, obviously," she said. "But for her I think the saddest thing is her whole college experience was not what she expected it to be; it was robbed from her."

She said Simpson, 22, dropped out of CU's business school in February, the final semester of her senior year, because of publicity. "She just felt so conspicuous. The pressure was just too much."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press