Amy Patton Supporters Question Inquiry Process, Dartmouth Responds

  • Former Dartmouth College women’s lacrosse coach Amy Patton exhorts from the sidelines during the Big Green’s 2013 Ivy League championship game with Penn at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Groups of alumnae and current players have written letters in support of Patton, who left the school on July 8 following a school investigation into the program. Valley News file photographs — Greg Fennell

  • Patton talks to her Big Green team during a timeout at the Ivy League semifinals against Princeton at Franklin Field in Philadelphia in 2013.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/31/2016 12:04:32 AM
Modified: 8/1/2016 10:54:19 AM

Hanover — An alumnae group affiliated with the Dartmouth College women’s lacrosse program has charged the school with conducting a “grossly unfair” investigation that led to the departure of longtime coach Amy Patton earlier this month after 26 years on the job.

The July 13 letter — written by the 13-member Women’s Advisory Board of Friends of Dartmouth Lacrosse that includes former Dartmouth athletic director Josie Harper — expresses concerns with “the specter of a grossly unfair process, undertaken with a preconceived objective (and) achieved through unwarranted, intimidating and unprofessional investigative methods.”

The letter was addressed to Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon, Chairman of the Board of Trustees William Helman and the Dartmouth Athletics Advisory Board. It was published online without the women’s lacrosse advisory board’s consent by the Dartblog website on July 18. Shannon MacKenzie, the advisory board’s chairman, declined to provide the Valley News with a copy of the letter but said the one leaked didn’t appear to have been altered. All of the members of the women’s lacrosse advisory board signed the letter to Hanlon.

College spokeswoman Diana Lawrence on Thursday indicated that Hanlon responded to the women’s lacrosse advisory board’s letter. In a follow-up email, Lawrence said there are “important inconsistencies” in the letter, citing records and information received from the women who oversaw the inquiry into the program, senior associate athletic director Megan Sobel and director of risk and internal control services Catherine Lark.

Meanwhile, a group of current and former players, in a letter to the Valley News this week, explained their concerns that reports surrounding Patton’s departure don’t accurately reflect the coach’s influence on their lives and experiences at Dartmouth. Patton left her job on July 8.

Dartmouth’s news release that day announcing Patton’s exit stated that it “followed an inquiry that led college officials to conclude that Patton engaged in conduct inconsistent with the standards of Dartmouth athletics and that change is in the best interest of the program.”

Said Patton in the release: “I adamantly disagree with the inquiry’s conclusion, as well as how the process was conducted.”

Harper declined further comment. Patton did not respond to an interview request via an intermediary. Harry Sheehy, Dartmouth’s sixth-year athletic director and Harper’s successor in that role, declined to discuss the specific causes or terms of Patton’s departure, adding that remaining quiet on the topic is frustrating to him.

“There’s a big cry for transparency, but there are legal pieces we have to pay attention to,” Sheehy said. “These situations are never satisfying to anyone. In the best of all possible situations, we’d be able to say exactly what transpired.”

The advisory board’s letter requested “an independent investigation into the process of the inquiry” conducted by Sobel and Lark. Sheehy said he is not aware of any Dartmouth intent to conduct an independent investigation.

“Complaints about programs and coaches aren’t going away, and if a school did an outside, independent investigation of every complaint it received, it would cost them a million dollars a year,” the athletic director said. He estimated that Dartmouth receives fewer than half a dozen such communications per year.

“The whole environment now is very litigious, and if people don’t get the answer they want, it’s the wrong answer,” Sheehy added. “That’s (unfortunate), but it’s reality.”

Rick Bender, the department’s media relations director, clarified on July 8 that Patton’s conduct did not involve physical abuse and that “the college came to Amy and told her its findings. … Confronted with this, Amy decided to resign her position.”

The women’s lacrosse advisory board’s letter said the inquiry started with a single player’s complaint. It describes the July 8 news release as “potentially libelous” and the board’s members as “shocked and disappointed by the accounts we gathered from both team members and their parents” regarding the circumstances that led to Patton’s resignation.

Included in the advisory board letter are the following allegations:

That women’s lacrosse players were threatened with being benched in games and excluded from graduation if they did not cooperate with the investigation.

Patton missed “two critical end-of-season practices” while waiting to be interviewed during the investigation.

Players were not allowed to have attorneys present during interviews lasting as long as three hours and including as many as four interviewers.

A blurring of two investigations, one by Sobel and Lark along with one by Dartmouth’s Safety and Security Department. The latter targeted an incident involving women’s lacrosse competitors but was separate from the player’s grievance that led to the investigation of Patton.

“No single entity oversaw the full process or understood the impact of multiple and lengthy interrogations on the academic or athletic schedules of the student-athletes,” read the advisory board letter.

Lawrence said only one of the two investigations “had any bearing on Patton’s employment status. … Interviews were coordinated and combined, where possible, to reduce the impact on students. All of the students interviewed were informed of both inquiries.”

On the intimidation charge, “we are sorry to hear that students found the interview process intimidating,” Lawrence said. “As is the case in any Dartmouth inquiry, this one was conducted by professionals who made every effort to be both thorough and respectful.”

Most students were interviewed once, although two required short follow-ups for clarification, and Sobel and Lark sought to avoid conflicts with academic or other commitments. “We are confident that they were conducted respectfully and professionally,” Lawrence said.

As for legal representation through the interview process, Lawrence indicated students consulted a dean “who conveyed inaccurate information, although proper college protocol was followed.” Dartmouth policy does not permit lawyers to be present during a school-led investigation unless required by law, she noted.

“While lawyers were not present in the interview room, students were allowed breaks to consult with their representation,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence also noted that Patton stuck to a planned interview date, leaving her assistants to handle a conflicting and rescheduled practice. After waiting two hours past the meeting’s slated start, Patton “left because of other commitments and her interview was rescheduled.”

“It is important to note that the pertinent facts that led to the Athletic Department decision are not in dispute,” Lawrence concluded in her email.

Describing itself as “an advocacy and fundraising group comprised of former (Dartmouth) players and coaches,” the board said its members “enjoy periodic updates from the coaching staff on the team’s performance and activities.”

Dartmouth coaches “deserve a fair and honest inquiry, without which the quality and integrity of Dartmouth athletics and of Dartmouth College as a whole are in jeopardy,” the letter reads. It concludes with a request that two of the program’s alumnae be included in the hiring process of Patton’s successor.

Besides Harper, 12 people signed the women’s lacrosse advisory board’s letter to Hanlon. One of them, Shannon MacKenzie, is acting as spokeswoman for the group and the board isn’t pushing for Patton to get her job back but to clear her name and protect other Dartmouth coaches.

“She’s not deserving of some of the allegations that have been made,” MacKenzie said during a phone interview. “It’s important that she’s still viewed as an incredible mentor and coach. We want to make sure an appropriate due process exists to avoid situations like this in the future.”

MacKenzie did not return an email message last week seeking further clarification of the board’s version of events. Emails to other members of the advisory board have also not been returned.

Meanwhile, a group of current and former Dartmouth players added its voice in a letter to the Valley News last week.

The letter, which was signed by six current Big Green players and supported by nearly 20 more, some of them spring graduates of the college, sought to portray Patton’s contributions as a coach and mentor. Winning mattered, but so did character growth.

“Being a Dartmouth women’s lacrosse player is not easy, but if you persevere, you will graduate with a lifetime support system of hundreds of amazing women all connected by Amy,” the letter stated.

“It is possible that Amy may have been misunderstood by those who never had the opportunity of putting on a jersey for her. So it is imperative that we define Amy Patton’s legacy for what it is — an incredible coach, mentor and someone who upheld the Dartmouth way — on the field and off.”

Under Patton’s leadership, Dartmouth was 248-138 overall and 119-44 in Ivy League play. It won nine league titles, made 13 NCAA tournament appearances, the last in 2013, and reached the national semifinals four times. Dartmouth played in and lost the 2006 national title game to Northwestern at Boston University’s Nickerson Field.

The Big Green was a top-10 program during 18 of Patton’s seasons, and she coached and developed 47 All-American players and 62 first-team All-Ivy players. As recently as 2013, Dartmouth had a 17-game home winning streak.

Dartmouth has suffered three consecutive losing seasons, however, going a combined 16-27 during that span and 9-12 in Ivy play. The Big Green began the 2015 campaign 0-9 and finished it 3-11, the fewest victories since the 1982 team managed only two triumphs. The 2016 squad finished 7-8 overall and 3-4 in the Ivies.

Sheehy said a national search for Patton’s successor has begun and that he bears Harper and her group no ill will.

“I have tons of respect for Josie, but she doesn’t know what I know,” he said. “Everybody’s in a weird place on this, and when we feel that somebody doesn’t meet our standards, it’s hard to convince someone who doesn’t believe it.

“I have to do what I think is best for the student-athletes, and that’s what I did.”

VALLEY NEWS sports editor Greg Fennell contributed to this report.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.




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